Amid rising coronavirus concerns, San Diego County is inching closer and closer to the precipice of being shut down all over again. As of Friday, Oct. 16, San Diego has scarcely managed to avoid being ranked as “widespread,” or “purple tier,” in state rankings by a 0.1 margin.
In a press conference given on Friday, Oct. 16, San Diego County Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten warned residents about rising case rates. For now, San Diego has been able to remain in the second-to-last “red tier” after adjusting the case rate for the extensive testing performed throughout the county. However, Dr. Wooten published a chart showing that adjustments may not be enough to compensate for rising case rates moving forward.
In an interview with The UCSD Guardian, infectious disease specialist and Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at UCSD Health Dr. Robert Schooley said that UC San Diego is playing a critical role in keeping the county out of the purple tier threshold.
“The way this works is counties get extra credit to bring their case count down if there is an above-normal amount of coronavirus testing done in the county,” Schooley said. “UC San Diego is doing so much [COVID-19 testing] that they’re getting 0.8 cases per hundred-thousand credit over and above what the county’s real rate is. So without us, the county would already be headed to purple.”
When asked if there were any concerns about the impact of rising county case rates at UCSD, Schooley said that “with all the streams of information we’re getting about viral activity on campus, I don’t think we really have to change much of anything right now.”
As a way to cope with the reality of the Coronavirus pandemic, UCSD has implemented the Return to Learn Program to safely facilitate on-campus activities through risk mitigation, viral detection, and intervention. Since student move-ins occurred in September, UCSD has positively diagnosed a total of 48 students and 10 campus employees with the virus. For updated data regarding positive cases and tests performed, students can go to the COVID-19 Daily Dashboard which is available on the Return to Learn website.
UCSD campus staff were notified by email on Oct. 20 that university employees who are currently working remotely can continue to do so until Mar. 12, 2021, which aligns with the end of instruction for the winter 2021 quarter. This change does not apply to UCSD Health and Health Sciences staff.
In the statement, UCSD Chief Human Resources Officer Nancy E. Resnick said that extending remote work would continue the social distancing needed to curb the spread of the virus and supports employees during these difficult times.
“Empowering employees to continue to work from home whenever possible greatly reduces the population density on campus, which helps protect our students, student-facing employees and other essential staff working on site,” Resnick said. “The extended remote work timeline will be helpful to employees as they make decisions regarding distance learning, caregiving, childcare and other personal and family obligations. I encourage managers and supervisors to be flexible during this time and work collaboratively with employees who may be navigating new challenges and responsibilities at home.”
Seventh College freshman Paola Mendoza provided a positive assessment of the Return to Learn program when she was asked to share her opinion on the initiative from the perspective of a student currently living on campus.
“I’m already from an area that’s highly impacted. I was working in an area of customer service so I always had that interaction. Compared to where I’m living now, I feel like I’m more isolated and less exposed. If I do ever want to get a COVID test, I have access to that, which is good. If I ever feel like it, I know that there’s resources compared to back home,” Mendoza said. “What I do like [about] what they’re doing is that before entering one of the markets or getting your food, you have to sanitize or else they won’t let you in. They have little stickers on the ground too, you know, like ‘six feet apart here.’ They also have the app Triton2Go so you could just order your food online and then go pick it up, so that prevents large crowds from gathering.”
In a letter addressed to the UCSD administration released in early September, hundreds of UCSD community members and stakeholders spoke out against the university holding in-person classes. They also alleged that the university was prioritizing its financial needs as a business rather than the wellbeing of UCSD students and staff.
In response to the letter and the recent increases in community spread, Schooley praised the behavior of UCSD students in following health and safety guidelines.
“One of the underlying things that concerned me about that letter was the implication that UC San Diego students weren’t responsible enough to deal with this epidemic,” Schooley said. “It was essentially an accusation that we would bring these students back and they wouldn’t be responsible enough to follow guidance about masking and distancing. I have to say, I’ve been really blown away by how good they’ve done in dealing with all of this. That’s why this has succeeded: because of what our students are doing.”
Dr. Schooley also urged students to communicate their health and safety concerns to both UCSD Administration and the Return to Learn Team. He added that he hopes student feedback can help the program to improve and ensure that people can “get out of their dorms, get back into classrooms and get into college.”
For now, Return to Learn will move forward as planned. The program encourages students to download the California COVID Notify system on their mobile devices, which uses bluetooth technology to notify users that may have been exposed to the virus. As of Saturday, Oct. 25, San Diego County remains in the red-tier.
Picture taken by Erik Jepsen for UC San Diego
This article was updated on Oct. 26 at 10:25AM to reflect new information about the extension of remote work for UCSD campus employees.