UC San Diego

UCSD Striving to Test 65,000 in University Community for Virus Each Month

To the university's knowledge, this proposed program is the first of its kind in the University of California system and in the nation

Colorized scanning electron micrograph of SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19

The University of California, San Diego hopes to implement a groundbreaking coronavirus testing program for roughly 65,000 of its students, staff and faculty in an effort to resume in-person activities when fall classes begin in September.

To the university's knowledge, this program is the first of its kind in the University of California system and in the nation.

The first phase, launching May 11, will offer tests to 5,000 on-campus undergraduate and graduate students, the university announced Tuesday. If successful, it may expand the program to the rest of the UC San Diego community, testing on a monthly basis, come fall quarter.

Self-administered, nasal swab-based COVID-19 tests will be made available for pickup to those 5,000 students. Using a barcode-reader phone application, the person will scan the barcode on the container, linking them to the specimen and generating a timestamp, the university said. They will then drop the specimen in a collection box to be tested at the Center for Advanced Laboratory Medicine at UC San Diego Health.

The "Return to Learn" program also includes plans for exposure notification and isolation housing for on-campus students who test positive for the virus.

“Our models indicate we need to be able to routinely test a large proportion of the campus community to detect an outbreak at an early stage,” said project lead Natasha Martin, DPhil, associate professor of medicine at UC San Diego School of Medicine.

Anyone who tests positive for the virus will be notified and advised to seek medical care, UCSD said.

A contact tracing team will also try to identify and notify people with whom the infected person may have had close contact with — similar to government tracing efforts. In accordance with federal and state regulations, San Diego County Public Health will be notified about positive cases.

As for privacy, only medical professionals and public health officials who need to know the identity of those positive tests will have access to patient information. Aggregate data without identifying information will be made available to researchers monitoring the presence or absence of the virus on campus, UCSD said.

The data is expected to inform an epidemiological model that reflects UC San Diego, its facilities, housing configurations, and the way people move and interact around the campus, UCSD said. This knowledge may help university leaders better understand how to most effectively detect cases early, mitigate transmission risk, and guide key decisions regarding housing, class sizes and classroom configurations.

“We are here to teach, conduct leading-edge research, and provide service to our communities,” said UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla. “We were able to implement remote education quickly and efficiently so that the vast majority of students could continue their studies while they took shelter during the initial phase of the pandemic, but we are also committed to continuing to offer our students, faculty, and staff the experience of being together on a college campus."

For the Fall 2019 quarter, UC San Diego reported a total student population of 39,633.

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