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Jul 05, 2020
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To determine if they’ve been infected, they’ll take a swab, dab it with nasal slime and leave the sample in a collection box. Bar codes with the packets will be linked to their personal medical records and cell phone numbers.

Within a day, students can expect results via text message. For those who test positive, it will set in motion a huge response system that includes medical care, isolation and contact tracing.

Robert Schooley, chief of the infectious diseases division at UC San Diego Health, said the reopening plan, dubbed Return to Learn, has multiple scenarios for campus life and surveillance results will dictate which one administrators deploy. Researchers will even pull manhole covers to check campus sewage for coronavirus levels.

“We want to be able to adjust what we do to what is happening,” Schooley said. “We’ll have a continuous, very broad vision of what’s going on with our testing. And we believe information is a good way to make decisions.”

Marina Bruce, an assistant director of admissions at the University of California San Diego, takes her dogs for a walk amid signs outlining COVID-19 precautions.
Marina Bruce, an assistant director of admissions at the University of California San Diego, takes her dogs for a walk amid signs outlining COVID-19 precautions.
That's the new paradigm at one of America’s roughly 4,300 colleges and universities, where administrators are anxiously pushing to resume classes this fall in the face of an unpredictable pandemic.

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An early vaccine could dramatically ease their stress. A resurgence of infections — possibly coupled with a flu outbreak — would do the opposite.

For now, school presidents are betting on a smorgasbord of viral testing systems and a completely rejiggered academic format. Nearly all universities tout hybrid teaching — a mix of online and in-person classes — and strict guidelines for social distancing and masks.

But there is resistance from some faculty, health experts and others who fear testing programs are inadequate and a college party culture could wipe out even the best safeguards.

“This is all terra incognita,” said Terry Hartle, senior vice president with the American Council on Education. “They don’t teach this in college presidents’ school… Every school is taking steps they couldn’t have imagined a year ago.”

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American colleges and universities offer petri-dish conditions for the coronavirus: Thousands of people from around the globe converge to live, study, eat, work and play in crowded quarters where lofty intellectualism intertwines with partying.

While youthfulness reduces the deathly peril of COVID-19, it is no shield against infection and transmission. YouTube is peppered with videos of college-age Americans ignoring public health guidance at bars, pool parties and other venues. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now says young people are driving a surge of cases in the South and West.

Last week, the CDC pooh-poohed plans to test all students and employees returning to campuses, saying it hasn't been studied and the benefits are unknown. "Therefore, CDC does not recommend entry testing of all returning students, faculty, and staff."

UCSD and others disagree. The same day, Cornell University President Martha Pollack co-authored a Wall Street Journal column arguing the school has a better chance of containing the virus by offering in-person classes and comprehensive testing.
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