UC Santa Barbara’s COVID-19 Response Team recently discontinued its Early Detection Testing and Monitoring Program — after two weeks of operation this fall quarter — due to low participation from the student body.
The UC will continue its vaccine booster mandate into fall quarter, and will require all staff, faculty and students to obtain the new FDA-approved Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech Bivalent COVID-19 vaccine if it has been more than two months since an individual’s last vaccine or booster dose, according to a Sept. 22 university-wide email.
Through the early detection program, students were randomly selected to participate in on-campus PCR testing every week starting in the 2021-22 academic year. In a Sept. 19 message, the COVID-19 Response Team stated its intention to resume the program during Fall Quarter 2022, describing it as an important means of data collection for the university.
“The COVID-19 Early Detection Testing and Monitoring Program will resume during fall quarter,” the Sept. 19 message stated. “This is our most accurate method of assessing the prevalence of COVID-19 in our campus population, which in turn assists us in developing our campus COVID-19 mitigation efforts and modifying them as the situation changes.”
The message urged selected students to participate in the program, emphasizing that “the reliability of this metric depends on a high rate of participation.”
The program collected data for Week 1 and 2 of the quarter, but only 20% of students invited to participate came in for testing, UCSB Media Relations Manager Kiki Reyes said in a statement to the Nexus.
The program ended shortly thereafter, as confirmed in a statement from Reyes.
Less than 1% – 0.62% – of program participants tested positive for COVID-19 in the week of Sept. 25 to Oct. 1, with an uptick to a 1.37% positivity rate for the week of Oct. 2 to Oct. 8, according to Reyes.
These numbers reflect lower total positivity rates compared to data from UC Santa Barbara’s publicly available COVID-19 Dashboard. According to the dashboard on-campus testing data, the week of Oct. 2 had a 2.42% positivity rate, with 26 positive cases reported of 1,074 tests.
Reyes said that students were choosing to use rapid at-home tests instead of campus PCR testing, driving down the number of volunteers for the early detection program.
“The Response Team has decided to discontinue the program but could resume it in the future if needed,” Reyes said in the statement.
UCSB’s COVID-19 mitigation efforts — which continue to align with guidelines set by the UC and public health — include vaccination mandates and recommendations to wear face masks indoors.
UC policy requires all staff, faculty and students to receive or affirmatively decline the influenza vaccination before Dec. 1. UCSB also requires the campus community to complete their initial COVID-19 vaccination doses as well as their first booster dose, unless they have obtained an approved exception for medical or religious reasons.
“The campus is following public health guidelines and continues to strongly encourage facemasks indoors,” Reyes said in a statement. “The campus is also continuing to provide not only free Covid-19 PCR testing and rapid test kits to members of our community, and assisting community members through case investigation nurses who help students, faculty, and staff notify their close contacts.”
The university recommends that students follow the California Department of Public Health guidelines if they test positive for COVID-19, requiring a minimum of five days isolation and up to 10 days if they continue to test positive with rapid at-home testing.
The university is also providing isolation beds for students who test positive on a limited basis.
“The campus has a limited number of isolation beds available for students who are positive for COVID-19 and reside in triple-bedded residence hall rooms where isolation is most difficult,” Reyes said. “Advice is provided by campus medical experts to other students on how to safely isolate in their apartments and medical questions, along with assistance for food resources, counseling referrals, and academic advice if needed.”
According to Reyes, UCSB is continuing to promote the use of the CA Notify mobile app, which allows anonymous notification of exposed contacts after a person gets a positive test.
A version of this article appeared on p. 5 of the Oct. 13, 2022 print edition of the Daily Nexus.