How UC San Diego stifled a COVID spike

University installed test-kit vending machines in efforts to increase COVID testing and shrink its positivity rate
By: | January 25, 2021
UC San Diego's vending machines distribute up to 2,000 COVID test kits a day. (Erik Jepsen/UC San Diego)UC San Diego's vending machines distribute up to 2,000 COVID test kits a day. (Erik Jepsen/UC San Diego)

Vending machines that distribute COVID test kids helped The University of California, San Diego squash a post-winter break coronavirus surge experienced at campuses across the country.

During the first week of the year, 94 students tested positive but that number shrunk to five last week, pushing the campus positivity rate back to the university’s pre-break level of under 1%.

More than 8,700 undergraduate and graduate students now live on campus, and COVID conditions there show a stark contrast the surrounding San Diego County, where the positivity rate has averaged 12%.

“We continue to pay close attention to the surge in Southern California that has been underway since November and are sensitive to rising levels of the virus in communities nationwide,” said Dr. Robert “Chip” Schooley, professor in the Department of Medicine at the UC San Diego School of Medicine and co-lead of the school’s Return to Learn program. “We anticipated that when people went home for winter break, they would be exposed to high levels of infection in their home communities, similar to what we saw after the Thanksgiving holiday.”


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More than 80% of UC San Diego students who tested positive after the holidays were infected during their trips home. After winter break, the university increased testing from biweekly to weekly screening and installed vending machines throughout campus that distribute as many as 2,000 test kids a day.

“Students are using the vending machines as the primary means of accessing COVID-19 testing and complying with weekly mandatory testing,” said Dr. Angela Scioscia, interim executive director for Student Health and Wellbeing.

In the fall, for example, the campus processed about f 1,000 tests a day. During the week of Jan. 14, more than 3,3oo tests were run.

The university also streamlined contact tracing efforts to move students into isolation housing within 24 hours of testing positive or being exposed.

And the university is also expanding its wastewater detection program from 76 sampling sites to 200.

The university is now evaluating travel guidelines for spring break, which will take March 20-23.


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