Thousands of Cal Poly students are scheduled to begin moving into campus dorms in just one week, and despite its best efforts over several months, the university still appears ill prepared to accommodate them.

In fact, it seems to be making up the rules as it goes along.

Only a few days ago, university officials decided to require all students living in dorms to be tested for coronavirus prior to arriving on campus — and that was at the urging of the county Public Health Department.

Cal Poly also announced that every student living on-campus will have a private room, which limits the maximum number to 5,150 students — which is still 60{3e0544090c75b66d16c3eca4d142e2092ea98ee5f79f18046a1f13abafab9023} capacity.

Some of this late decision-making is understandable, as COVID-19 has been a moving target almost from day one. But many questions remain.

Here’s one big one: What’s the point of switching almost entirely to online education — only 12{3e0544090c75b66d16c3eca4d142e2092ea98ee5f79f18046a1f13abafab9023} of classes are in person — if you’re still bringing students back to campus?

All things considered, attending class in person is probably one of the less risky activities for college students.

Classrooms, at least, are somewhat controlled environments — seats can be distanced, masks required at all times and doors and windows opened for maximum ventilation. Some classes could even be held outside to further minimize risk.

But Cal Poly can’t enforce social distancing and masking rules away from campus, and all it would take is one superspreader event — a house party, say — to cause a coronavirus outbreak.

Already, other universities have seen COVID-19 cases rise; the list of colleges that have walked back reopening plans seems to grow every day.

No wonder many Cal Poly faculty and staff members are reluctant to return to work.

Granted, Cal Poly’s latest revised plan is an improvement, but there are still gaping holes, including:

  • A lack of ongoing testing. The university in now requiring students to be tested within 72 hours of their move-in date, but that’s just one point in time. As noted in a recent Tribune viewpoint by public health expert Morgan Philbin, there should be some form of ongoing monitoring. That includes periodic testing and monitoring wastewater, which is a way to determine how widespread coronavirus is within a community. One example: Boston University is requiring at least once-a-week testing for students living both on and off campus.

  • Lack of benchmarks: Is there a point when the university would walk back its plans by closing dorms or canceling classes? If so, what is it? Conversely, when would the university allow more students back on campus?

  • Lack of community involvement: So far, most communications have been directed to the “campus community.” Yet the entirety of San Luis Obispo is affected. SLO residents should be included in the loop, especially since housing fewer students on campus will almost certainly mean more students living off campus.
  • Lukewarm efforts to discourage students from coming to SLO: In his latest letter to the campus community, President Jeff Armstrong said the university is “asking students to defer housing if they do not have in-person classes and feel comfortable taking virtual classes at their permanent residence.” How about something a bit stronger, like this: San Luis Obispo County is on the governor’s coronavirus watch list. Until that changes, we strongly advise students to remain home and attend classes online.

Granted, some students have no choice but to live on campus. For example, they may be international students; their living situations may make online learning next to impossible; or they may need to take in-person classes.

Cal Poly should make exceptions for these students, but knowing that congregate living situations put people at higher risk, even 60{3e0544090c75b66d16c3eca4d142e2092ea98ee5f79f18046a1f13abafab9023} occupancy seems high, which is all the more reason to require a more robust coronavirus testing program.

Of course, it’s beyond disappointing that students, especially first-years, have to go through this.

They missed out on graduation and other end-of-high-school rituals, and now they’re being denied the college freshman experience.

That’s a letdown not just for students, but for their parents as well, and it’s a further blow for San Luis Obispo restaurants, hotels, retail shops and other businesses that depend on Cal Poly students and their families for a large chunk of their revenue.

Then there’s the university’s financial situation. As of early May, the California State University system had already reported losing $337 million in unanticipated expenses and lost revenue due to the coronavirus pandemic.

We understand that Cal Poly is facing extremely difficult situation. It’s trying to balance the need to keep students safe with the desire to provide them with some semblance of normal college life during the most abnormal of circumstances.

However, this is not a disease to take lightly. While healthy young people are at lower risk of becoming seriously ill, there’s still a lot we don’t know about long-term effects of COVID-19.

Also, asymptomatic carriers could easily spread the infection to vulnerable individuals.

And don’t forget, San Luis Obispo County’s case numbers remain stubbornly high; 50 new cases were reported Thursday, including 21 in the city of San Luis Obispo.

Cal Poly has yet to demonstrate that its reopening plan does everything possible to ensure the health and safety of its entire campus community — including students, faculty and staff — as well as the larger community of San Luis Obispo.

It will get that opportunity starting next week, and we sincerely hope it goes well.

Nevertheless, we still strongly urge the university to develop a more conservative plan that includes frequent coronavirus testing of students living both on and off campus; establishment of benchmarks to determine when it needs to reverse course on reopening; more details on how it will deal with violations, both on and off campus; and improved communication with the entire San Luis Obispo community.

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