In response to a rise in the number of COVID-19 cases, UC San Diego updated its Return to Learn program for Winter Quarter, which includes more frequent testing for students and employees reporting to campus as well as the introduction of COVID-19 Test Kit vending machines. These new guidelines come amidst a recent surge in Southern California as well as new state stay-at-home orders from CA Governor Gavin Newsom.
Nationwide and local increases in the number of cases as well as the low capacity of ICU rooms have led to the extension of the regional Stay at Home Order for Southern California. As of Jan. 3, the total cumulative number of cases in San Diego County is 164,563. The 14-day average percentage of positive cases in the county is 10.8 percent, while the target is less than 8.0 percent.
With this increase in San Diego County, UCSD has required students and employees reporting to campus to test more frequently. Beginning Jan. 2, UCSD requires students to take self-administered tests once a week, with each test being at least five days apart and with no more than nine days between tests.
The positivity rates on campus have remained far below the average compared to the county. According to summary reports maintained by UCSD Health since Fall 2020, there have been a total of 362 cases. Meanwhile, the positivity rate for undergraduate students living on-campus has been 0.17 percent and the overall student positivity rate has been 0.6 percent.
The newest turn of the pandemic involves a new strain of the coronavirus, which is much more contagious. On Dec. 30 the first confirmed case of this new strain, B.1.1.7, was found in San Diego. According to San Diego County Supervisors, this makes it likely that the new strain has already spread throughout the county.
UCSD also introduced a pilot program utilizing COVID-19 Test Kit Vending Machines. These vending machines are placed in multiple locations across campus, and operate by students swiping their student ID cards. Students may pick up and drop off a testing kit between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., seven days a week, and completed kits must be dropped off within 72-hours of pickup.
The Return To Learn program was first announced in an email from Chancellor Khosla on May 5. The program uses “risk mitigation, viral detection and public health interventions to help safely resume on-campus activities.”
One of the components of Return to Learn is its hybrid component, in which both remote and in-person classes are offered to students. For Winter 2021, fewer than 10 percent of undergraduate class sections will be offered in person. These in-person courses will all be conducted outdoors, per the San Diego County health order. In-person courses are primarily lower division classes and research or studio-based courses with 50-75 students maximum.
In addition to the 9,129 students who lived on campus during Fall 2020, Housing Dining and Hospitality is expecting 1,000 more undergraduate students to move into campus housing between Jan. 2 to Jan. 4. On-campus housing will remain at single occupancy for Winter Quarter.
In a recent email, UCSD Student Affairs encouraged students coming back to campus from winter break to delay their arrival to UCSD by at least two weeks or longer until the surge of cases in Southern California improves.
Guidelines for new move-in students require them to “maintain distance and wear masks at all times within their apartments and suites, except in their own private bedrooms and in the shower.”
“I think it’s pretty safe for most of us because we are able to get our essentials,” Earl Warren College sophomore Leonardo Gonzalez said. “For example we have an app where we can just order food and then go pick it up. So there is less risk of getting exposed to someone that might have the virus. And there’s hand sanitizer everywhere.”
“I think UCSD has done a pretty good job with Return to Learn. The COVID tests are easy to access, COVID tests and most classes are remote, and we have the option for them to be asynchronous,” Gonzalez explained.
UCSD also announced that staff who are currently working remotely will continue to do so at least through May 31, 2021. Employees and students who are reporting to campus must continue to complete a daily self-screening for COVID-19 before arrival.
Students living on or near campus who have symptoms of COVID-19 can be tested for free, regardless of healthcare provider, at Student Health Services or any UCSD Health location. UCSD students can schedule an asymptomatic test for free and are encouraged to get retested in 12 to 16 days.
Artwork courtesy of Erik Jepsen for UC San Diego.
First COVID-19 graphic courtesy of San Diego county.
Second COVID-19 graphic courtesy of UC San Diego.