No one tests positive for coronavirus in sampling of 1,300 UCSD students

Some 1,300 UC San Diego students voluntarily took self-administered coronavirus tests over three weeks ending May 29.
Some 1,300 UC San Diego students voluntarily took self-administered coronavirus tests
over three weeks ending May 29.

UC San Diego said none of the 1,300 students it tested for the COVID-19 coronavirus in recent weeks turned out to be infected, supporting the university’s belief that the virus isn’t widely present on the huge La Jolla campus.

The students were part of the first mass coronavirus testing conducted on residential students at a major American research university.

The voluntary test was offered to 5,000 students over three weeks ending May 29 and drew fewer participants than expected, partly because it involved the discomfort of nasal swabbing, the school said.

UCSD had about 15,000 students in housing until March, when the university began to ask people to find accommodations elsewhere. Some international students found that hard to do, as did graduate students who are closely involved in lab work.

UCSD also said the “Return to Learn” pilot program proved it could conduct mass testing, which might make it easier for the university to resume in-person classes this fall.

The campus did not experience widespread coronavirus infection before or during the program.

“That makes me think that there’s not a lot of virus going on right now — which could change,” said Dr. Angela Scioscia, interim executive director of student health and well-being at UCSD.

“These numbers gave us the information we need going forward. We understand how to do this efficiently, how to communicate, and that self-testing is possible.”

The pilot program required students to swab the inside of their nose, which many people dislike.

Scioscia said it also appears that many students skipped the test because they feared exposing themselves to the virus, or that they might lose their housing if they tested positive.

Campus housing is available to students who need to self-isolate.

“I think we realized we need to improve our messaging,” Scioscia said.

UCSD was experiencing record enrollment and an unprecedented building boom when the virus began to spread nationally earlier this year. Like other schools, UCSD moved most of its students out of residential housing and shifted to mostly online classes.

The shift upset many students, leading some to plead with the school to return to normal. Chancellor Pradeep Khosla has been guiding the campus in that direction. But the University of California Board of Regents hasn’t decided whether to allow campuses to broadly reopen to students.

Regents are expected to decide the matter in June. ◆