OFFICE OF THE CHANCELLOR
May 5, 2020
ALL ACADEMICS, STAFF AND STUDENTS AT UC SAN DIEGO
|SUBJECT: || UC San Diego’s “Return to Learn” Program|
The COVID-19 pandemic required universities throughout the nation to
quickly implement remote learning so that students could continue their
studies while they took shelter. At the end of the winter quarter, many
UC San Diego students returned to their homes, which provided space on
campus for those who remained to practice social distancing and adhere
to Governor Newsom’s stay-at-home order. Since then, all students have
been participating in remote learning.
While we are proud of the success of our remote education programs, UC
San Diego is committed to continuing to offer students a unique
in-person college experience, where they can learn and live on campus.
To guide our future responses to the pandemic, a team of UC San Diego
clinicians, molecular biologists, technologists, infectious disease
experts, bioinformatics specialists, disease modelers, public health
experts, and others has launched a new program called “Return to Learn.”
The initial phase, which begins May 11, is designed to make COVID-19
testing available for the more than 5,000 students who continue to
reside on the UC San Diego campus.
Five major components comprise the UC San Diego Return to Learn Program.
RISK ASSESSMENT AND MITIGATION
Through comprehensive review of physical and functional aspects of the
UC San Diego campus, we seek new strategies for stratifying and reducing
transmission risk of SARS-CoV-2, such as optimal class sizes and
density, the scope and structure for co-curricular activities, and
appropriate personal behaviors, like physical distancing and the use of
face coverings, to help reduce spread of the virus.
We have created rigorous mathematical models for an enhanced viral
monitoring program to help us detect the presence of SARS-CoV-2 on
campus in its earliest stages, possibly before people even know they’re
infected. According to our models, if we are able to successfully test
60 to 90 percent of our campus population for viral infection each month
on a recurring basis, we estimate we have a greater than 90 percent
chance of detecting the spread of SARS-CoV-2 when fewer than 10 persons
among tens of thousands are actively, but unknowingly, shedding viral
particles. This is possible because we are a research university with a
deep reservoir of tools, from innovative sampling techniques to
high-throughput nucleic acid detection platforms to extensive public
If a testing sample proves positive for SARS-CoV-2, a specially trained,
campus-based public health team will attempt to reach out to that person
to notify them and urge them to seek appropriate health care. The team
will also try to identify and notify persons with whom the infected
person may have had close contact in previous days—an effort known as
exposure notification. As required by law, we will be working closely
with state and local public health officials in all of our responses.
Recent studies suggest SARS-CoV-2 may be most infectious before symptoms
appear. Therefore, to further enhance chances of catching the virus
early, Return to Learn will also look for viral RNA from residential
wastewater and surface collections. If the virus is detected, molecular
sequence analyses will be used to create a database to help guide public
health measures. By combining information technologies, cutting-edge
epidemiology tools, diverse cellular and molecular sciences, and
traditional public health interventions, our approach offers the
possibility of extraordinary levels of viral control at the population
All of these efforts will be integrated to promote early analysis of
viral activity signals and quicker response times. The Return to Learn
program has been designed to identify clusters of individuals shedding
virus or those at greater risk in specific locations, whether in a
residence hall or a particular academic building. That will permit
faster treatment, earlier mitigation of identified issues, and
continuing refinement and improvement of the system.
By testing large numbers of UC San Diego students, faculty, and staff on
a recurring basis, we hope to be able to quickly identify COVID-19
infections on campus and perhaps reduce the risk of a significant
This program is unprecedented and audacious. If successful, it could
serve as a model—not only for higher education, but also for cities,
counties, and states working to fight the spread of SARS-CoV-2.
The UC San Diego Return to Learn Program represents higher education at
its finest, and if successful, the program can help UC San Diego and
similar institutions to do what we do best: teach, conduct leading-edge
research, and provide service to our communities.
Students living on campus and critical operations staff currently on
campus will receive an email with instructions on how to participate. To
learn how the program works, please visit the Return to Learn Program
website at: https://coronavirus.ucsd.edu/return-to-learn/index.html.
Thank you for your collaboration. We couldn't do this without you. With
the support and contributions of everyone, we will continue to make UC
San Diego the best place in the world to work, study, learn, and
Pradeep K. Khosla|