The University of California, Davis worked to administer five-minute coronavirus screening tests to all city residents and not just students after schools across the United States have been criticized for allegedly fuelling the virus’s spread by letting students go back to in-person learning.

In the last six months, the university has slowly built itself bigger to accommodate more and more people who were not associated with the school. Officials have tried to change their methods after universities across the country were accused of being too lax.

COVID-19 Testing Site

Several public health experts have called the university’s attempts the most ambitious program of its kind in the country. Additionally, they noted it could become a role model for other schools to follow suit.

The University of California, Davis, is administering coronavirus tests two times per week, releasing results overnight. School officials have made the testing site available to all city residents, which number about 69,500 individuals.

Dozens of graduate students from the university were also trained to assist with contact tracing. School officials coordinated with hotel and apartment owners to acquire areas where people could quarantine or isolate themselves if believed to have been exposed to COVID-19. They also hired nearly 275 undergraduate ambassadors to help with sorting out disinformation and distributing free face masks.

Going one step further, the university has extended its reach to include testing of wastewater from campus grounds to the city of Davis. Officials also plan to administer vaccinations in the next few weeks and screening processes to other public school sites.

The school’s program is funded by several major donations, state and federal grants, and CARES Act funds. Officials expect the costs to total about $38 million, but it has already shown success by catching more than 850 potential outbreaks since it began before Thanksgiving.

Davis City Mayor Gloria Partida said that the program was “a big science project” that could potentially support the town’s residents live through the pandemic. About a third of Davis’ population is made up of students who have, for the most part, started remote learning. This has caused financial losses to schools and the town itself.

“I know that university felt it needed to get this right to be able to open up. But for the community, this is the key to us getting back to normalcy,” Partida said.

Many experts believe that what the University of California, Davis is doing, providing cheap COVID-19 testing, distributing masks, encouraging hygiene, and implementing social distancing, is a key factor in allowing schools and businesses to reopen.

Students from across the city began going back to their college towns due to several reasons. “We heard a lot of anxiety from our community. About what a disaster it was going to be when the students came back into town,” Partida said.

Cheap Testing

A University of California, Davis plant geneticist, Richard Michelmore, from the school’s Genome Center, recommended officials to allow him to create an in-house center for the COVID-19 virus. He would need to recalibrate a machine worth $400,000 to be used in testing for the virus.

Michelmore’s lab was able to screen several thousands of samples every day after a few weeks of operation. Additionally, the process was cheaper than most testing sites, and results were released overnight.

“What does it mean to keep your campus well when everyone else is getting sick around you? The university is part of the community,” Dr. Brad H. Pollock said, the New York Times reported.

The university had already acquired a second testing machine by August and prepared a plan to add more personal protective equipment and screenings if the city was able to provide enough assistance.