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How UC campuses handled Covid-19

We asked UC’s new president Dr. Michael Drake last week about the trend. “What we did, which seems to work, is we based our decisions on science,” said Dr Drake, who is also a doctor.

Credit…University of California

Here is an excerpt from our conversation, slightly edited and condensed:

University of California campuses have dealt with the virus in various ways.

We meet weekly and look at what each of the campuses is doing. It‘s a conversation that started before I arrived. Campuses varied in the number of students they brought in, from a low of about 10 percent to a high of about 60 percent of the normal student body on campus. This was determined by the circumstances of the county and then by the type of rooms available.

What good practices are emerging?

We do not have duplicate students, with a few rare exceptions. Places with more old-style dormitories – with a long hallway and shared bathrooms – have fewer students than in newer constructions with single rooms with attached bathrooms. We did pre-exams – they must have done some testing, then sequestered, then retest when they first got to campus. And there are regular surveillance tests of asymptomatic people, with isolation, contact tracing and quarantine.

Innovative approaches?

UC San Diego has a new type of housing that allows them to have more students living on campus. They test the sewage for evidence of viruses and then when they find it they go back and test everyone in the building. In a few cases, they found a virus in the water, tested everyone, and then found asymptomatic cases. It works.

How do you manage the holidays, which have been a major source of epidemics?

Most of our campuses start later. By the time September rolled around, we saw what happened with campuses that started early. And we have learned from it. Our students are thoughtful, intelligent adults interested in furthering their education and they want to do whatever it takes to be safe.

Yes, but what about off-campus fraternity and sorority houses?

We have actively communicated with these students and offer frequent testing. And yes, students living on campus have a lower test positivity rate.

[Read a conversation with Jennifer Doudna, a Nobel Laureate, whose lab ramped up testing at U.C. Berkeley.]