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UC San Diego’s Ambitious Reopening Plan Is Working So Far

A man walks by a COVID-19 testing sign at UC San Diego campus, Sept. 28, 2020.

Photo by Jacob Aere

Above: A man walks by a COVID-19 testing sign at UC San Diego campus, Sept. 28, 2020.

Few large universities in California have had a reopening plan as ambitious as UC San Diego’s. But so far it seems to be working out.

More than 23,000 students are regularly on campus and 9,600 are living in on-campus housing. Yet, only 43 students and 11 employees tested positive for COVID-19 during the first month of classes, according to the university.

Listen to this story by Joe Hong.

Compare that to San Diego State University, which had more than 1,000 cases in its first month of classes. UC San Diego officials say the formula for their success is simple — mask requirements, adequate testing, contact tracing and social distancing.

“I think the main message is that a university is not a dangerous place to be if you have the kind of program in place that includes masking and distancing as we do,” said Robert Schooley, a professor of medicine at UC San Diego who oversaw the reopening plan.

RELATED: UCSD Standing Firm On Ambitious Reopening Plan Despite Outbreaks On Other Campuses

In SDSU’s case, the vast majority of cases were traced to parties and other gatherings in the dense off-campus housing in the College area. University officials on Friday asked the county to send cease-and-desist orders for homes planning large Halloween parties in the area this weekend.

At UCSD, Schooley said students have done a good job of social distancing. The university has limited class sizes at 50 students or 25% of classroom capacity, whichever is smaller. All students are required to be tested twice a month. None of the cases came from in-person instruction.

UC San Diego is also planning on significantly expanding its wastewater detection program, which university experts say has prevented at least one outbreak on campus.

There are currently 27 wastewater collectors that are able to detect the presence of the virus from wastewater flowing from different parts of the campus. Schooley said he expects the university to have a total of 200 collectors in the coming months.

RELATED: SDSU Brings Back A Small Number Of Students For In-Person Classes

Angela Scioscia, the interim director of student health and wellness at UC San Diego, said more students and faculty are expressing interest in in-person instruction after seeing this early success.

“As people get more comfortable, the joy of teaching in-person comes back and the joy of learning in person comes back,” Scioscia said. “If we are continuing to be successful with our efforts there will be more desire to expand that opportunity.”

By November, the university will complete the construction of outdoor classrooms and study areas that will allow more students to participate in in-person learning.

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Photo of Joe Hong

Joe Hong
Education Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs an education reporter, I'm always looking for stories about learning. My favorite education stories put a student's face on bigger policy issues. I regularly sift through enrollment data, test scores and school budgets, but telling student-centered stories is my top priority.

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