SAN LUIS OBISPO — Cal Poly shared on Thursday, Dec. 17, details of its winter operations plan, which staggers the return of on-campus students during the first week, requires more frequent student COVID-19 testing, increases on-campus isolation capacity, and includes an all-virtual finals week.

The plan was developed in close coordination with the County of San Luis Obispo Public Health Department.

“COVID-19 is spreading more widely in SLO County than ever before and many community members might be uneasy about the decision to bring back college students at this time,” said Dr. Penny Borenstein, the County Public Health Officer. “With the university and students keeping the health and safety of our community top of mind and strictly following public health guidelines, I can support Cal Poly’s winter quarter plan.”   

As in the fall quarter, Cal Poly will hold about 10 percent of its classes in person (about 428 of the planned 4,105 class sections) during winter — with rigorous sanitation and engineering control protocols in place. This was very successful in the fall quarter, with no cases of coronavirus transmission traceable to face-to-face classroom exposure. Only courses that cannot be delivered virtually and are required for graduation are being offered face-to-face.


University Housing will also host about 4,500 students in single-occupancy rooms only, with masks required in public spaces, and with active discouragement of congregating.

Cal Poly’s winter quarter begins Monday, Jan. 4. Students living on campus who have in-person obligations will move in Jan. 3. Students without in-person obligations will move in Jan. 8-9. And students living off campus who have traveled over winter break will be encouraged to return on the same, staggered schedule.

“We know that most of our students intend to live in the San Luis Obispo area regardless of the university’s plans,” said Cal Poly President Jeffrey D. Armstrong. “Having students living on campus and coming to campus for some critical face-to-face classes provides the university with an opportunity to generate greater compliance with public health preventive measures and to provide frequent and ongoing COVID-19 testing.” 

Required Testing for Students

In consultation with County Public Health, Cal Poly will require students living, studying and or working on campus to present a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days of their arrival. Those students unable to provide a test result will be tested immediately upon their arrival on campus. 

The university has announced plans to increase the molecular testing of students through a new faculty-developed saliva-based molecular (PCR) program that will have greater capacity (up to 4,000 tests per day) and allow for more frequent testing throughout the quarter. 

Also, throughout the quarter, all students living both on campus and off campus in the San Luis Obispo County community will be required to take part in testing at least twice per week, regardless of the modality of their classes. 

“Our required testing program for students on campus maximizes the chances of catching positive cases early and provides the opportunity to model appropriate prevention behaviors,” Armstrong said.

Students who do not comply with these testing requirements will receive a series of warnings and then will lose the use of key university resources (to be restored upon their compliance with testing requirements). 

“Enforcement of our testing requirements is critical,” Armstrong said, “Given cases increased dramatically in November in our county, state and nation, Public Health has determined that any student on campus who fails to test at the prescribed frequency is a potential detriment to the public health of our campus, city and county.”

Campus Health and Wellbeing will continue to offer diagnostic testing for students with symptoms. Ongoing testing also will be provided for faculty and staff.

Additional Changes

Cal Poly previously announced that final exams for the winter quarter will be delivered 100 percent virtually, allowing students the option to return home for spring break earlier. 

Over winter break, the university is installing wastewater testing equipment at five strategic locations around campus to monitor for coronavirus in residence halls (allowing for early preventative testing, isolation and quarantine). 

The university also is adding about 50 beds to its on-campus isolation capacity, for a total of 236 beds. 

As well, the university will continue to focus on educational campaigns aimed at helping students understand and embrace their role in the San Luis Obispo community’s efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 — and will continue to work with the city of San Luis Obispo to hold students accountable through the student conduct process for any violations of local and state health and safety violations, either on or off campus.

“As San Luis Obispo County grapples with the same increasing numbers of infections happening nationwide, it is crucial that our student residents — like all members of our community — do their part as we continue to combat the spread of this virus,” Borenstein said. “We can do it, but only together — only with everyone playing their part.”

For the latest details on COVID-19 cases in San Luis Obispo County, visit And for more about the university’s response to COVID-19 and planning around the pandemic, please visit and