UC Santa Barbara experienced rising COVID-19 positivity rates over the first three weeks of Spring Quarter 2022, with a nearly 3% increase in positive tests administered by the university.
UCSB spokesperson Shelly Leachman provided the Nexus with weekly numbers of positive cases reported and positivity rates from the university’s on-campus testing program.
The week of March 20 — the week of spring break — saw a 0.43% positivity rate. With students returning to campus for spring quarter, UCSB reported a 1.02% positivity rate for the week of March 27, followed by a 2.17% positivity rate for the week of April 3. The positivity rate rose to 3.38% positivity rate for the week of April 10 before declining to a 2.07% positivity rate for the week of April 17.
“These are calculated using the positive tests divided by the number of campus COVID-19 tests done in that time period, and most of these people have symptoms of COVID-19,” Leachman said of the data in a statement to the Nexus.
Leachman also provided case positivity rates from the university’s COVID-19 Early Detection Testing and Monitoring Program that tests randomly selected students, which she said is “more of a routine epidemiological strategy to eliminate unintentional bias in reporting.”
“The Early Detection rates give a more accurate picture of COVID-19 across the UCSB community, and we are finding about 30-40% of those cases have no symptoms,” Leachman said.
The Early Detection program reported a 0.8% positivity rate for the week of March 27, a 1.68% positivity rate for the week of April 3 and a 1.36% positivity rate for the week of April 10. No random testing was performed from March 20-26, the week of spring break.
Dr. Vejas Skripkus, executive director of UCSB Student Health Service, attributed the increase to the spread of the omicron variant, the loosening of mask mandates and traveling by students, faculty and staff during spring break.
“I believe that this is due to a number of factors including the increased transmissibility of the Omicron BA.2 Variant within the community and the high prevalence of this variant in the Santa Barbara area,” Skripkus said in a statement to the Nexus.
“Another factor contributing to the increase in COVID-19 cases is due to travel. As students, faculty and staff traveled for spring break they brought back COVID-19 from the places they visited,” he continued. “With the loosening of the mask mandates statewide and nationally we naturally will see an increase in COVID-19 positivity rates.”
The beginning of Spring Quarter 2022 coincided with the return of a fully in-person Deltopia — an annual, unsanctioned street festival in Isla Vista that drew thousands of students and visitors this year. Skripkus said that it was uncertain whether Deltopia factored into the recent rise in positivity rates.
“It is difficult to say with precision that Deltopia was a spreader event but anytime there is poor mask compliance the chances for a potential spreader event increase,” Skripkus said.
However, he added that the campus’s relatively high vaccination rate helped mitigate the spread of COVID-19 during the weekend of Deltopia, as well as efforts by local community organizers to encourage masking.
“I was pleased to see the organizers encouraging masking and providing masks for students throughout the weekend. Our very high campus vaccination rate of 97% as well as our campus screening program contributed to helping mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” Skripkus said.
In light of the greater COVID-19 transmission rates, Skripkus encouraged students to take necessary precautions, such as continuing to wear a mask irregardless of a government mandate and obtaining regular testing.
“As people continue to travel for holidays and for concerts and events and as mask mandates and restrictions go away, it is important to remember that there are things that you can do as an individual to minimize your risks for contracting COVID-19,” Skripkus said.
“Wear a mask, do not travel or go out if you are not feeling well, and take advantage of the no cost COVID-19 testing that is available for all of campus at our Loma Pelona testing site. You have the ability to minimize the spread of COVID-19 in our community,” Skripkus continued.
He also urged students to report positive test results from tests administered off campus.
“With the abundance of availability of rapid antigen COVID-19 test kits, it is also easier for students, faculty and staff to self test at home and report these results to us via the patient portal,” Skripkus said. “It is important that students, faculty and staff continue to report positive home test results to the COVID-19 Response Team so that we can work to keep the campus safe.”
Along with these reminders, Skripkus thanked the UCSB community for its efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
“I would like to thank the UCSB community for doing their part every day for so long in helping to decrease the numbers of infected individuals with COVID-19. Although we are not out of this Pandemic yet, the signs are encouraging.”
A version of this article appeared on p. 3 of the April 28, 2022 print edition of the Daily Nexus.