What one large campus learned when it began coronavirus testing

University of California San Diego wants to test it entire campus—65,000 people—each month, beginning in September
By: | June 11, 2020
About 1,500 University of California San Diego students self-administered nasal swab-based COVID-19 tests during the launch of the institutions wider plan to resume in-person activities. No one tested positive. (Erik Jepsen/UC San Diego Publications.)

University of California San Diego launched its campus coronavirus screening initiative by testing more than 1,500 students in May—without a single person testing positive.

Undergraduate and graduate students living on campus this summer were invited to enroll in the testing as part of the university’s Return to Learn plan for resuming in-person activities.

Students self-administered nasal swab-based COVID-19 tests at several locations on campus. They then used a smartphone app to scan the barcode on their specimen collection container and left the test in a collection box.

The swabs were tested at the Center for Advanced Laboratory Medicine at UC San Diego Health.


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“We learned a great deal that will help going forward,” says Christine Clark, assistant director of university communications and the School for Global Policy and Strategy. “Testing was fast. On average, the entire sampling process took just seven minutes, from start to finish.”

This first phase has proven the feasibility of expanding the program to test the entire campus—some 65,000 people—every month, beginning in September. Such large-scale screenings would cost more than $2 million each month, Clark adds.

Beginning in September, University of California San Diego officials intend to test everyone on campus—some 65,000 people—monthly, at a cost of $2 million each month. (Erik Jepsen/UC San Diego Publications.)

The testing will also help administrators design a model that reduces the risks of transmission as people live, interact and move around on campus. It will also guide decisions on housing density and class sizes, among other policies.

“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,” project lead Natasha Martin, an associate professor of medicine at UC San Diego School of Medicine, said in a statement.


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“Return to Learn” also establishes procedures for isolating campus residents who test positive for coronavirus. The program’s “Case Finding and Contact Tracing” team will work to identify and notify people with whom the infected person had been in close contact with in the previous several days.

In a statement, Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla lauded his university’s ability to shift quickly to online classes but said the institution is committed to the on-campus experience.

“We expect these efforts to help put us in the best possible position to minimize virus outbreaks and implement new interventions as needed, should we resume in-person activities this fall,” Khosla said.


UB’s coronavirus page offers complete coverage of the impacts on higher ed.