UCSD increases COVID-19 testing 98% under 'Return To Learn' strategy

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Posted at 12:32 PM, Feb 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-25 15:32:32-05

SAN DIEGO (CNS) - UC San Diego is on target to conduct 100,000 COVID- 19 student tests in the first two months of the winter quarter, a 98% increase in testing compared to the fall quarter, it was announced Thursday.

The campus positivity rate is two-tenths of a percent, compared to San Diego County's average of 5%. By March 1, UCSD leaders estimate the university will have processed 200,000 student tests.

COVID-19 tests for employees have also been on the uptick, while infection rates have declined. Some 55,000 employee tests have been conducted since March of last year and the positivity rate for the population is a tenth of a percent.

In addition to increased mandated testing from twice a month to once a week, the installation of COVID-19 test kit vending machines spurred the rapid rise in screening for the winter quarter. Ten vending machines have been installed on campus to date, with nine more coming soon. The machines can distribute as many as 2,000 tests a day.

"Student and employee dedication to daily screening, weekly testing, physical distancing and masking has greatly helped keep our campus and surrounding community safe," said UCSD Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla. "Adaptability and innovation have been central to our Return to Learn strategy."

"The Triton culture of working together to spark creative ideas and develop practical solutions trained us for a real-life situation like this pandemic. From the introduction of COVID-19 test kit vending machines, to wastewater monitoring, the CA Notify technology, and other innovations, the entire campus community should be proud of our collective success," Khosla continued.

The campus has more testing capacity than any other university in the state, with two labs processing tests -- the Center for Advanced Laboratory Medicine and Expedited Covid Identification Environment. On average, UCSD processes about 5,000 tests per day.

Since the start of the pandemic, there have been no outbreaks on the UCSD campus.

According to university leaders, the key to this effort has been wastewater monitoring. As of Monday, the campus has 109 samplers. The samplers monitor more than 300 buildings across campus. If a positive signal is detected, individuals in the buildings are encouraged to get tested as soon as possible.

"Our wastewater monitoring helps us detect infections and potential outbreaks at their earliest stage," said Return to Learn co-lead Natasha Martin, associate professor of medicine at the UCSD School of Medicine. "The system is highly sensitive, allowing us to detect a single asymptomatic infection among several hundred building residents."

Leaders plan for the campus ultimately will have 150 samplers installed by the end of the winter quarter, covering most residential and non-residential buildings.

Throughout the winter quarter, more than 2,000 students have been learning in-person through the UCSD's outdoor classrooms.

The campus constructed six large outdoor classrooms, as well as six outdoor study spaces. The 80-by-60-foot outdoor classrooms are ADA compliant with the capacity to seat up to 50 students physically distanced.

Each space features Wi-Fi, Zoom and podcasting equipment, weatherproof pendant speakers, microphones, and large LCD display screens, as well as traditional whiteboards.

This technical equipment allows students to participate virtually in real-time across the U.S. and all over the world, while others like School of Global Policy and Strategy graduate student McKenzie Richardson attend in person.

"We are all pretty happy to be here on campus, learning," she said. "I feel lucky to have four classes take place in the tent classrooms. I enjoy the interaction, and you can't beat being outdoors in San Diego, even in winter."

When public health restrictions are lifted, the university expects to have more than 450 class sections taught in person, with a combined enrollment of 5,800. Since the beginning of the pandemic, no evidence of transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus has occurred in any UCSD -- indoor or outdoor -- classroom setting.