How UCI decided to resume in-person instruction
January 27, 2022
Members of our community have asked about the metrics being used to inform campus decisions during the pandemic, most recently about the return to in-person instruction.
The guiding principle is that the incidence of disease must be low enough that we can (a) manage individuals testing positive, and (b) break the chain of infection through our contact tracing program, the availability of isolation and quarantine space, and the presence of sufficient staff.
One key measure is the testing positivity rate, the proportion of PCR tests at UCI testing sites that are returning positive results. Note that the positivity rate depends on the mixture of symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals being tested, as these two groups have very different positivity rates, and it can be misleading to compare positive rates across campuses and communities with different testing strategies. For example, because our positivity rate is tied to PCR testing at our official sites, it does not include the results of many home antigen tests used by members of our community, which excludes from our official results many negative tests (which, if included, might reduce the overall positivity rate). Still, monitoring the positivity rate within our community is an important indicator of trends on campus. At the start of winter quarter, the positivity rate for campus tests was around 17%. Daily positivity rates for the week of January 24 are approximately 3%. We expect this rate to continue to decline, but we also know that, at this rate, we can manage individuals testing positive and break the chain of infection.
The other key measure is the number of new cases, which is obviously related to the testing positivity rate. During the first week of the winter quarter, we had 1,764 individuals test positive. That number dropped to 1,097 for week two and 464 for week three. All our models indicate that these numbers will continue to decline (with some fluctuations as some additional students return to their dorms), but we know that we can identify and contain new cases at these numbers.
A final measure is the availability of isolation and quarantine bed space, which is necessary to ensure that we separate those who test positive from others in our community. Thankfully, we have more-than-adequate space available – over 300 beds available out of 362 total beds.
An important final point: We have also been consulting with other (non-UC) campuses that have begun in-person instruction. These campuses report that, as with the delta variant, there has been no evidence of classroom transmission within a highly vaccinated and masked campus community.
Rates of vaccination, masking policies, symptom checking, testing protocol, and our contact tracing program all combine to support a decision to return to in-person instruction given current and predicted positivity rates and numbers of new cases.
As we have throughout the pandemic, campus leadership and public health experts meet regularly to monitor the state of the pandemic on our campus and determine appropriate strategies. We are grateful to all for continuing to partner in taking steps that can reduce the risk of disease in our community: using the symptom check, staying home when sick, testing as required (and as you wish), working with contact tracing, and wearing adequate facial coverings.