Written by Mike Blake and Steve Gorman
SAN DIEGO – The California campus in San Diego at the University of California has launched a winter academic term with a unique turnaround in its coronavirus protection regime: newly installed vending machines equipped with COVID-19 tests for students.
Eleven vending machines at UC San Diego as of Jan. 2 – with nine more to be added over the next week or two – are the first of their kind to be unveiled on a college or university campus in the United States, school officials say.
Adapted to conventional automata, the systems aim to make it easier and cheaper to check the school student body regularly.
All 10,000 students living on campus, which makes up about a quarter of total school enrollment, must be tested at least once a week, up from once every two weeks in the past quarter, university officials said.
Test kits are free and can be obtained on the machines by moving the university ID card. Students then make a nostril swab and place the sample for collection and analysis in one of two laboratories on campus.
Results usually return within 12 to 24 hours, UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep Khosla told on Tuesday as he showed off one of the machines on a closed food court on campus.
“They’re an amazing innovation – simple, efficient and influential,” he said of the machines that have been releasing thousands of tests a day since they started.
Students can otherwise avail themselves of testing at any of half a dozen or so passing places on campus.
For all those who have positive results, the university has set up a 600-bed housing unit in which infected students who are asymptomatic or have a mild illness can recover in isolation until they are contagious.
However, the quarantine housing has been poorly used so far. Less than 600 UC San Diego students have contracted COVID in the past 10 months, a university spokeswoman said.
All examinations are performed using highly sensitive polymerase chain reactions or PCR tests that detect traces of viral genetic material.
UC San Diego also has the most advanced COVID sewage testing program of any American college, and sewage samples collected from campus residences are scanned every 24 hours. Wastewater monitoring allows health officials to indirectly check all students on a daily basis and detect potential epidemics before they occur.
Despite ambitious testing, the campus offers less than 10% of winter undergraduate courses in person, using outdoor classrooms under the special security restrictions of COVID in force for educational programs in San Diego County. All other undergraduate courses are conducted remotely.