UC San Diego temporarily returning to online instruction as omicron surges
Speaker 1: (00:00)
Today marks the start of winter break for the university of California, San Diego, but students won't be returning to classrooms in 2022, at least not right away. The university announced yesterday that due to the rapidly spreading Ohn variant, it'll be back to remote learning at least until mid-January joining me to tell us more is Gary Robbins reporter for the San Diego union Tribune, Gary. Welcome. Hi, what exactly did you see SD announced yesterday?
Speaker 2: (00:30)
It announced that it is going to teach virtually everything online for two weeks, at least two weeks during the month of, uh, January that will give the university time. They hope for the big surge in Omni, that's coming to kind of pass through the county scientists, uh, have been doing modeling that suggests that right after new year's is gonna be a big surge. Um, they know this in part because UC San Diego on campus, and then other parts of the county does wastewater testing, uh, looking for the COVID virus. And they do because people shed the virus in their stool and you could pick up on the virus before people actually start to experience symptoms. So it's kind of like an early warning system and they didn't like what they were seeing. They thought it was gonna happen around the other parts of the state too. So the university shared that information where the other UC campuses and by the end of yesterday, seven of the nine undergraduate campuses in the UC system had decided to go online temporarily in part of January.
Speaker 1: (01:32)
And what does this mean for students who are relying on, on campus housing, will dorms be closed or any other campus, uh, buildings, or is it only classrooms
Speaker 2: (01:40)
It's primarily classrooms? Uh, the mercy has a tremendous amount of housing. You know, they can house almost 18,000 people at the moment. There are still about 4,000 students on campus. Most of them are foreign students or students from other parts of the United States or people who simply can't get home. All of those people will be allowed to stay in the dorms during this period of time. And in January while the, um, online component is underway, students will be allowed to come back to their dorms as well. Some people, you know, simply don't have places to stay or they wanna be back on campus. Since the pandemic broke out. The, the university has had one of the lowest infection rates anywhere in the country when it comes to academia, primarily because they test so thoroughly. So they're hoping these, these extra steps that they're taking now will help them get through the surge.
Speaker 1: (02:28)
You said U C S D was the first to make this decision of returning to remote learning, and then it spread to most, but not all other undergraduate UCS. How about the other universities? Is the CSU going to consider remote learning or other community colleges, private universities? Well,
Speaker 2: (02:45)
They might, uh, at this point, CSU was still, uh, monitoring the situation. But earlier today, the CSU system set out a, um, document saying that they were gonna require all students and faculty who are eligible to get the, um, booster by February 28th at the latest. And then I, I gotta note from San Diego state university saying that they're actually expecting to, uh, require students to do that by mid-January. I can't remember the precise date, but they're doing it at an earlier date. They have the right to do that. Individual campuses can do it sooner. So everybody's pushing real hard to get the booster. You know, we're about to go to a situation in America where you're not really considered to be fully vaccinated, unless you also have the booster. So these university systems are jumping out, uh, ahead, uh, to be giving everybody the safest possible consequence.
Speaker 1: (03:35)
So Gary CSU is going to require boosters, but they're not yet returning to distance learning. UC San Diego is returning to distance learning, but they are not requiring boosters yet. Do I have that right?
Speaker 2: (03:49)
Uh, not quite. Uh, so, uh, so the UC came out real hard yesterday saying everybody's gotta get the booster. And then the campuses and the UC began saying, we're gonna do that. And we're also, uh, many of us are gonna go to online education for a few weeks, perhaps three weeks in, uh, January.
Speaker 1: (04:07)
How are students reacting to this news of going back to class on zoom? I imagine they're probably not too happy about it.
Speaker 2: (04:13)
Yeah. You know, I talked to two, uh, students at UC San Diego yesterday. They accepted it for what it was, uh, because they realize that this is a very serious situation, but they really don't like it at all for a variety of reasons. Um, you know, I've talked to a lot of students and faculty about this and they believe that working online is a very alienating experience. It's very lonely. It gets to the point where a lot of students don't even put their, their face on the screen because they feel so remote. And in, from what's happening, they want to be on campus. They want the college experience. And so there's a lot of sadness here. And a lot of anxiety, people are worrying, oh my God, is this the start of this all over again at this point, Andrew, it doesn't appear to be that this is gonna be a super long term thing. We're not in the same place we were a year ago. You know, we do have vaccines. So there are more options, but yeah, people are not pleased that they're going to be couch surfing at their parents' house. Again
Speaker 1: (05:11)
Has U C S D said anything as to what would actually lead them to bring in person instruction back. Do they have a clear data, a that will help them determine that it's safe enough to go back to in person learning
Speaker 2: (05:26)
In talking to the infectious disease experts on the campus over the past 48 hours, I don't get the sense from them that they think that's going to be necessary. They think that going online for a couple of weeks in January will be adequate time to do it. But you know, these viruses behave in ways that we cannot, uh, fully anticipate. So we have to, you know, we have to say that up front. We don't know exactly how Aron is going to behave. It looks to be more transmissible. Uh, scientists are hoping that it is, uh, doesn't cause as many hospitalizations and deaths, but we just don't know yet. We need to see how the, um, vaccines and the boosters work against all the crime.
Speaker 1: (06:05)
I've been speaking with Gary Robbins who covers science and technology for the San Diego union Tribune. Gary, thanks for joining us.
Speaker 2: (06:13)
Speaker 3: (06:16)
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.