UCSD fights COVID-19 by erecting large outdoor tents for classrooms and study space

UC San Diego has built four large outdoor tents for classes and study.
UC San Diego has built four large outdoor tents for classes and study.

UC San Diego has erected four large outdoor tents near the center of the campus to give students a place to take lectures and studies that would pose little risk of exposing people to the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Health officials say a combination of social distancing and the breeziness of the outdoor environment makes it hard for the virus to spread.

The new mini-village is part of “Return to Learn,” UCSD’s effort to enable a comparatively small number of students to live on campus and take some courses in person.

The outdoor classrooms will accommodate up to 50 students — much different than indoor lecture halls, where 200-student classes are held.

The tents will include everything from Wi-Fi to podcasting equipment to microphones and LCD display screens.

Campus officials say they may use the structures for a handful of events this fall. But UCSD won’t begin to routinely used them for lectures until the winter quarter begins in January.

The tents are designed to withstand significant rain and wind.

Several thousand UCSD students are currently taking one or more in-person classes. Everyone else is taking courses entirely online.

Early on, UCSD said the anxiety caused by the pandemic and the heavy emphasis on online courses would likely cut the university’s fall enrollment by about 800 students. But the opposite happened. The school says its overall enrollment jumped by 840, reaching 40,473. It was the first time in UCSD’s 60-year history that it has surpassed 40,000. The school could surpass its official capacity of 41,400 next year. That was not supposed to happen until 2035.

A total of 72 students and university staff members have tested positive for the coronavirus since Oct. 1, a comparatively small number given UCSD’s size. School officials are considering an expansion of its already large testing program and might let students administer nose swab tests themselves. The tests would be analyzed by the university. ◆