In-person lab student tests positive for COVID-19

A student attending an in-person animal health science lab from the Department of Animal and Veterinary Sciences at Cal Poly Pomona tested positive for COVID-19. Only students enrolled in the two lab sections that meet in the same room were notified by the university. 

The student emailed Associate Professor Joanne Sohn and Associate Vice President of Student Health and Wellbeing Leticia Gutierrez-Lopez on Sunday, Sept. 27, to notify them about the positive test result. 

In the two lab sections, an investigation to determine exposure and who needed to be contacted was immediately launched by Leticia Gutierrez-Lopez, associate vice president for Student Health and Wellbeing. Students who participate in the lab sections were contacted the same Sunday and classes were canceled for that week.  

Because only one student tested positive, the case is not considered an outbreak. In effect, students were not required to get tested before returning to class on Tuesday, Oct. 6. 

“Dr. Leti and her first goal was really to minimize movement and have people isolate in quarantine,” said Francis Teves, assistant vice president for Government and External Affairs and lead of the Safer Return Task Force. “Secondarily, even though there are safety and infection measures already in place in the classroom, additional deep cleaning procedures were followed.” 

The lab was disinfected at 3 a.m. on Monday morning by university staff. Students who used the same lab as the infected student were contacted directly and advised to follow the health and safety protocols. 

Since the incident, face shields were implemented into the safety measures for courses like the surgical nursing skills lab but not for all Animal Health Science labs, like second-year animal and veterinary science student Jodie Morada’s parasitology and infectious diseases lab. 

Some students who were not notified about the positive COVID-19 case believe that they should have been informed. Though she is not enrolled in the infectious class, Morada had overheard a professor mention the positive COVID-19 case in the department. 

“I do think that failing to inform us on that is definitely not a good thing,” she said. 

Nonetheless, Morada and other students, still feel safe to attend in-person classes because of the enforced regulations from the department. 

“The environment that we have right now is pretty sanitary. We only have four students in the class,” she said. “I think I’ll definitely just be more precautious about it.” 

Prior to the positive case, the department optimized student safety by enforcing Los Angeles County health regulations which include completing a health screening through the university before going to campus, wearing masks, standing 6 feet apart, entering and leaving class one at a time, using hand sanitizer and washing hands when entering or leaving the classroom and sticking to designated stations. 

The health screen consists of eight questions that determine whether the student is experiencing symptoms and, if not, a message indicates that they are safe to go on campus. 

Students who are taking these in-person labs don’t know if the Department of Animal and Veterinary Sciences has a plan for graduating students if an outbreak happened. 

Fifth-year animal health science student, Esmeralda Torres, raised concerns about her graduation status without access to vital lab courses. 

So, if we’re not physically doing whatever task that they want us to, then they can’t graduate us,” said Torres. “We really, really need the lab.” 

Though the in-person lab sections did not experience an outbreak, this has pushed the Safer Return Taskforce to evaluate better methods of preventing future cases. The team is looking into the #CampusClear app for colleges and universities, which is a free COVID-19 self-screener and fast pass to allow users into buildings on campus. 

This story has been updated as of Oct. 20.

Feature image Courtesy of Rattankun Thongbun.

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