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UC San Diego temporarily returning to online instruction as omicron surges

Students and faculty walk on a pathway at the UC San Diego campus, Sept. 28, 2020.
Jacob Aere
Students and faculty walk on a pathway at the UC San Diego campus, Sept. 28, 2020.

In anticipation of a wave of omicron variant COVID- 19 cases, UC San Diego will move its instruction to remote-only from Jan. 3-17, the school announced Tuesday.

Chancellor Pradeep Khosla made the announcement following a letter from UC President Dr. Michael Drake to the 10 UC chancellors asking them "to design and implement a plan for a January return to campus that mitigates public health impacts, responds to the unique circumstances facing your campus, and maintains our teaching and research operations."

UCSD will close for its winter break on Wednesday. Khosla said that during the break he plans to "incrementally populate the campus using a more comprehensive testing regimen."

UC Riverside and UC Irvine also confirmed a shift to remote learning on Tuesday.

Students and faculty at UCSD, regardless of vaccination status, will be required to complete a COVID-19 test on the day they return to campus for winter quarter. People who are not vaccinated and those who are vaccinated but have not received a booster shot will be required to test for the virus two times per week, between three and five days apart.

Khosla offered a hopeful note before the campus shuttered again.

"Together, we have demonstrated continued resilience, creativity and innovation during the course of the pandemic," he said. "Together, we have achieved both great and small things. And together, we will face the omicron variant."

The shift to remote learning follows a weekend announcement that UCSD School of Medicine researchers have found an "unprecedented" spike in COVID- 19 viral load in wastewater collected from San Diego County's primary wastewater treatment facility.

The amount of COVID-19 virus detected in wastewater has predicted the region's COVID-19 caseload up to three weeks ahead of clinical diagnostic reports, the researchers said Saturday. Since people with COVID-19 shed the virus in their stool even before they experience symptoms, wastewater screening acts as an early warning system.

"The wastewater screening results reported on Friday are unlike any the team has seen before," said Jackie Carr of UCSD Health. Both delta and omicron variants of the virus were detected in the wastewater.

Researchers and public health officials urged people to get their vaccines or boosters if they haven't already done so. They also recommended downloading the CA Notify exposure notification system to smartphones, limiting time spent indoors or unmasked with others, and taking steps to improve indoor ventilation and air filtration.

"In addition, every person in San Diego County needs to have a low threshold for testing right now," said Christopher Longhurst, chief medical officer and chief digital officer at UCSD Health. "Don't wait. If you feel the slightest symptoms, if you think you might have had contact with someone with COVID-19, if you've gathered in crowds without masks, if you're planning a get together -- test, test, test."

COVID-19 PCR tests are available at UCSD Health, various San Diego County sites, other health providers and community pharmacies. At-home rapid antigen tests are available from retail pharmacies and online vendors. Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 should consult their health care provider.