UC Davis weighing plans to scrap COVID-testing requirement amid Omicron fears

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By Caleb Hampton
McNaughton Media

Beginning next month, UC Davis may end its biweekly COVID-19 testing requirement for nearly all students, staff and faculty. The decision to end the requirement was announced last month just days before the World Health Organization designated Omicron a COVID-19 “variant of concern.”

This week, as Omicron outbreaks spread around the world, prompting some colleges to reimpose public health precautions, UC Davis’ plan to ease restrictions has been met with growing unease. A petition started by UC Davis lecturer Julian Elias, which urges campus leadership to continue mandatory testing, had garnered nearly 500 signatures as of last Friday.

“This is clearly not the right time for UCD to stop requiring COVID-19 tests,” the petition states. “Many UCD students, faculty and staff members will feel less safe.”

No changes to the plan have been announced, though campus leadership told Express sister publication the Davis Enterprise it would monitor the situation over the next couple of weeks while students are away from campus.

“We have winter-break guidance in place and will continue to monitor any changes to COVID-19 rates and evaluate what needs to be done to keep the community healthy,” UC Davis spokesperson Melissa Blouin said in an email. “We will inform the campus community should our guidance change.”

According to the campus’ current guidelines, all students, staff and faculty will need to get tested at least once between Jan. 3, when winter quarter begins, and Jan. 16. After that, campus affiliates who are fully vaccinated will be encouraged to continue getting tested, but only those who are unvaccinated will be required to do so.

In ending the testing requirement for most people on campus, UC Davis Chancellor Gary S. May cited the high vaccination rate among campus affiliates and the low COVID-19 positivity rate reported throughout the fall quarter. As of this week, 99 percent of UC Davis students and 95 percent of employees were vaccinated against COVID-19.

Since the quarter began in mid-September, the test positivity rate has hovered around 0.1 percent. As of this week, just one percent of the campus’ isolation and quarantine housing facilities were in use. There are 250 beds in total dedicated for use as isolation or quarantine housing.

Last summer, the University of California was one of the first major universities to announce a COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Meanwhile, UC Davis’ in-house rapid testing program, available to Davis community members through Healthy Davis Together, a partnership between the city and campus, has won awards and gained national attention for limiting the spread of COVID-19. “UC Davis has truly emerged as a role model for our response to the pandemic,” May said.

Still, concerns about Omicron, which scientists believe is significantly more contagious than other COVID-19 variants, left members of the campus community wondering if UC Davis could be letting its guard down. Elias, who authored the petition to continue mandatory testing at UC Davis, cited a Dec. 15 New York Times article about Omicron surges on college campuses.

“The surges are happening at universities with very high vaccination rates,” the article stated. Despite having a 97 percent vaccination rate, Cornell University reported 930 COVID-19 cases this week. On Wednesday, New York University, with a 99 percent vaccination rate, cancelled all “nonessential” gatherings, including graduations and athletic competitions, due to surging case numbers.

The new precautions are not limited to East Coast campuses. On Thursday, Stanford University informed students that classes will move online for the first two weeks of the winter quarter and students will be required to get a booster vaccine dose by the end of January.

UC Davis leadership has encouraged students, staff and faculty to get COVID-19 booster shots, which are required by the university’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

As it has throughout the pandemic, campus leadership emphasized that UC Davis’ COVID-19 guidelines are dynamic and responsive to evolving public health conditions.

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