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About the Return to Learn Program

The goal of the Return to Learn Program is simple: returning to what we do best—teaching, learning, conducting pioneering research and serving our communities—in the safest way possible.

Several taskforce work groups consisting of faculty, students and staff were created to provide extensive evaluation, planning and preparations. Taskforce decisions have been guided by evidence, science and expertise from faculty and researchers in our School of Medicine and Wertheim School of Public Health and Longevity Science and from healthcare experts at UC San Diego Health in conjunction with current state and county public health guidelines.

The program is multifaceted and involves regularly screening UC San Diego students, faculty and staff for the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. These results continually inform key decisions about how our university can most effectively detect cases early, lower transmission risk and respond to outbreaks as the campus population begins to return.


We have tapped into the expertise of UC San Diego researchers, who have developed a unique testing program that accelerates resumption of in-person activities. Campus clinicians, public health experts, molecular biologists, infectious disease specialists, epidemiologists and bioinformaticians are using statistical modeling to help speed early detection and shorten the duration of outbreaks, which could result in fewer infected people.

Currently, screenings are completed through a voluntary, self-administered swab test; a potential saliva test is in development. In addition, researchers are investigating residential wastewater and surface collections to uncover potential virus spread, even among those who are not yet symptomatic. All tests are kept strictly confidential, viewed only by medical professionals and public health officials as needed.

The initial pilot phase of the program launched May 11, 2020. Over a three-week period, more than 1,500 resident undergraduate and graduate students took part in self-administered COVID-19 testing. Notably, not a single student tested positive. The ultimate goal is to broaden the scope to test 60-90% of UC San Diego’s on-campus population for the virus on a recurring basis.

Planning a safe return to campus

A comprehensive strategic plan is being developed through ongoing analysis of Return to Learn testing results. In Sept. 2020, UC San Diego will welcome the return of students, faculty and staff for the fall quarter while introducing a new set of guidelines developed to protect the health and safety of the entire campus community.

Through a phased approach and careful consideration of public health guidelines, UC San Diego fall instruction plans are intended to meet the needs and well-being of our Triton community. In addition, employees will be returning in stages and will complete a symptom screening before arriving to campus each day. Similarly, on-site research is ramping up gradually, with low-density research, scholarly and creative endeavors resuming upon approval by department chairs and deans.

Due to the dynamic public health situation, the university’s plan may change as the pandemic evolves and government and public health authorities respond. Please visit this website regularly for new information about the return to campus, as well as results and status of our SARS-CoV-2 screening of students, staff and faculty who are on campus.