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Winter 2021 Plan

UC San Diego welcomed new and returning students for Winter Quarter 2021 on January 4. Throughout fall, the campus’s proactive strategies to detect and prevent transmission of SARS-CoV-2 proved effective—the campus’s positivity rates have remained far below average. The multifaceted Return to Learn program combines risk mitigation, viral detection and public health interventions to help safely resume on-campus activities.

For the majority of campus staff employees who are currently working remotely, they will continue to do so at least through May 31, 2021. There will continue to be a low-density population on campus to provide plenty of space for effective physical distancing. While we cannot remove all risk, we are dedicated as a community to make our university an exemplar of caring and responsible behavior. Our plan is designed to be flexible and offers the university the ability to respond quickly should state and county public health guidelines or conditions change.

The success of our plan is dependent on the full support of our community in following campus safety requirements, including wearing a face covering, practicing physical distancing, completing the daily symptom and exposure screening, and washing hands often. In addition, a plan has been established so that UC San Diego can respond rapidly to emerging COVID-19 trends.

This page includes information for students about SARS-CoV-2 screening and testingwinter instruction, student-housing, student dining and student services, as well as updates for staff employees and researchers.

SARS-CoV-2 Screening and Testing

Daily Screening

All UC San Diego employees and students who are reporting to campus or any other physical UC San Diego location must complete and submit a daily self-screening for COVID-19 before arrival. Students will need to register once before completing the daily student self-screening. Students can learn how to register for the symptom screening in a video here.

Campus employees also register once by going to Blink, and then complete the daily self screening. If you are a student or employee within the San Diego region, you are highly encouraged to complete daily self-screening in case symptoms develop.

Daily Symptom and Exposure Screening

All UC San Diego employees and students who are reporting to campus or any other physical UC San Diego location must conduct a daily self-screening for COVID-19 before arrival. You will receive a colored thumb after you complete the screening to signify if you are cleared to work and attend class on-campus, or if quarantine or testing is needed.

Green Thumb icon
  • No symptoms or exposure
  • Cleared to come to campus
Yellow Thumb icon
  • “Exposure”, not cleared for on-site work
  • Must quarantine for 14 days
  • Tested between 5-10 days after exposure
Red Thumb icon
  • Symptomatic, not cleared to come to campus
  • Triage with Health's Support line
  • Offered no-cost test via UC San Diego Health


  • All undergraduate and graduate students coming to campus for educational, research, co-curricular, recreational or social activities (including all students living in university-owned housing) will receive no-cost testing for COVID-19. For clarification: “educational activities” includes attending a class as a student, but not as an instructor.
  • Students are required to test on a weekly basis, with each test at least 5 days apart and with no more than 9 days between tests.
  • All UC San Diego staff, academic appointees and student employees, whether they are reporting to campus or any other physical UC San Diego location for work or working remotely, will be offered voluntary, no-cost testing for SARS-CoV-2 through UC San Diego Health. Employees working on campus are required to test weekly.
  • On-site students and campus employees may fulfill required COVID-19 testing through self-administered test kits retrieved from campus vending machines (no appointment needed); provider-observed self-administered testing at Price Center (appointment needed); or provider-administered testing via drive thru (appointment needed).
  • Those completing their first-ever test at UC San Diego must make an appointment at Price Center or a drive-thru testing site. Future tests can then be conducted by visiting vending machines—which will soon require you to scan your campus ID card. Learn more on the Testing and Screening page.
  • Those using campus vending machines should have the most updated version of the UC San Diego app on their smartphone before arrival. Samples must be returned within 72 hours at a drop box near the vending machine. Watch a video here to learn how to complete the self-administered test.
  • UC San Diego will continue to provide no-cost testing for symptomatic individuals or those with medically confirmed exposure to COVID-19.

More details can be found on the Testing and Screening page.

Winter Instruction

We are tracking enrollment, classroom space and course modality changes in real-time, and working with departments and colleges to make necessary adjustments that give our students access to the classes needed for timely academic progress.

  • Over 4,750 undergraduate and graduate lecture, lab and discussion course sections will be offered this winter. 
  • Current public health orders restrict teaching to outdoor in-person or remote modalities. Each instructor may choose the teaching modality that is best for their class.
  • Less than 10 percent of Winter 2021 undergraduate class sections will be offered in-person. The remaining courses will be conducted remotely. Students can learn more on the Winter 2021 Schedule of Classes FAQ website.
  • Currently, in-person classes may only be conducted in outdoor classrooms. These are capped at 50 to 75 person occupancy and the same safety protocols are observed as in indoor spaces. When permitted, indoor class size is limited to fewer than 50 students per class, or 25% of classroom capacity, whichever is smaller; many in-person classes will have fewer than 25 students.
  • In-person courses are primarily lower division classes, graduate seminars and research or studio-based courses.
  • Currently, there are five outdoor study spaces available on campus. These are capped at 35 person occupancy and available on a first-come, first-served basis. All physical distancing and face covering rules and protocols apply. View a list of outdoor study space locations here.
  • The campus's Laptop Loaner Program enables students to request a laptop, hotspot or other technical support. Likewise, the Computer Lab Lookup is continually being updated

Classroom Safety

  • All faculty and students will be required to wear an approved face covering for the duration of each in-person class session.
  • Classroom seating distances will be identified, providing appropriate physical spacing with a miminum of six feet around each seat.
  • For flexible and robust access to remote instruction, Information Technology Services is upgrading the WIFI strength and reception around campus and residence halls and improving technology to support hybrid and simulcast courses.

Students can learn more about winter academic instruction here.

Student Services

  • Student services and programs will be available remotely in compliance with the state's Regional Stay at Home Order. This includes programs like Student Success Coaching, advising for thesis and dissertation completion, OASIS Learning Communities, Recreational Programs, the Basic Needs Hub, Student Health Services, Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), Health Promotions Services and the Community Resource Centers.
  • Student advising will be available primarily through the Virtual Advising Center, with virtual advising appointments available. 
  • The Colleges and the Graduate Division will continue to provide remote programs and services for students living both on- and off-campus.
  • The International Students & Programs Office (ISPO) has also developed programming to engage incoming international undergraduate and graduate students.

Student Housing

On-campus undergraduate housing will remain at single occupancy for winter quarter. All decisions are guided by consideration of the health and safety of students, employees and local communities.

All undergraduate and graduate students residing in campus-operated housing (HDH) must conduct a daily symptom and exposure screening. They are also required to participate in no-cost asymptomatic testing once a week.

Winter Move-In

Move-in for new undergraduate residents will be staggered over a three-day period (January 2-4, 2021). 

  • All students will be tested when they arrive for winter quarter move-in. If a student tests positive, they will be moved into isolation housing.
  • Students will be tested again on Days 5 and 10.
  • Students living in campus-operated housing are required to maintain distance and wear masks at all times within their apartments and suites, except in their own private bedrooms and in the shower.

New Undergraduates: Drive-Through Testing

  • An estimated 1,000 new undergraduate students are expected to move-in for winter quarter between January 2-4, 2021.
  • New undergraduates are required to participate in COVID-19 testing before they will receive their move-in wristband and keys.
  • Move-in testing will take place at Athena Circle from 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Students will need to sign up for a testing date and time.
  • Students will receive an email with a link to sign up for their move-in date through the HDH Housing Portal.
  • Students will be able to select a move-in date and time starting December 15.
  • Students arriving after January 4 will need to visit Price Center for testing before they can receive their move-in wristband.
  • New students can have no more than two move-in helpers. Face coverings are required.

Returning Students: Self-Administered Testing

  • Returning students must indicate their date of arrival and will need to complete a self-administered test at their residential location within 24 hours. Residence Life offices will send students reminder emails to test.
  • As returning students already have the majority of their belongings on campus, move-in helpers (family and friends) and visitors are not allowed.

Graduate Student Move-In

  • New graduate student residents moving into campus-operated housing will need to self-schedule for a test within 24 hours of arriving on campus.

Housing Details

  • All residence halls (suite) and apartment occupancy will be limited to one student per room. Visitors to residential units are not allowed and no visiting is permitted between units.
  • Single graduate students will also be housed in single bedrooms.
  • All undergraduate residential common areas will be cleaned using a cleaning system that pairs an electrostatic sprayer with disinfectants and sanitizers.
  • All students who reside on campus will be required to participate in daily symptom and exposure screening. Students will need to register once before completing the daily student self-screening
To stay current on housing updates, please visit the HDH COVID FAQ webpage.

Isolation Housing and Quarantine

  • In the event a student living in on-campus housing tests positive for COVID-19 at any time during the academic year, they will be moved to designated on-campus isolation housing, where Student Health and Well-being Services will provide care and ensure basic needs such as food delivery are met. Graduate students may choose to isolate themselves in their apartment with their family with consultation from Student Health Services. Housing updates are available online.
  • Isolation and quarantine housing is also available for off-campus students if they cannot quarantine safely at their off-campus location.
  • Meals will be delivered to isolation housing three times a day, charged to students’ dining meal plan or billed to their housing account.
  • Students who are exposed to someone with COVID-19 will be required to quarantine for 14 days; a student may or may not, subject to the University's sole discretion, be able to complete this quarantine in their own residence. The student will be tested for the virus between Days 5 and 10 after the date of the last known exposure.
  • There are 300 beds available for asymptomatic quarantine and another 300 beds available for symptomatic isolation for our campus residents. UC San Diego’s isolation housing protocol has been in place since the end of the spring quarter 2020.

Students can learn more on the Housing, Dining, Hospitality FAQ page.

Sequestration Following Unmasked Off-Campus Activity

  • Any student who resides in campus-operated housing and who engages in any off-campus unmasked activity (sharing a meal, recreational activities, gatherings, etc.) is required to be masked and distanced within their residential unit (with the exception of their personal bedroom and the shower), complete the daily screener, and undergo additional COVID-19 testing on days 1, 5 and 10 after returning to campus, resuming weekly testing after the day 10 test.
  • Students can use the online self-scheduler to select a convenient testing time for a provider-administered test or they may pick up a self-administered test at any COVID-test-kit-vending machine on campus.
  • Students may continue to attend in-person classes and are encouraged to visit the Virtual Student Union for daily offerings of remote and virtual engagement opportunities to stay connected.
  • Outside of the residential unit, students are required to mask at all times, with the exception of eating and exercising, and must maintain physical distance at all times. Sequestration ends when a Day-10 COVID-19 test returns as negative.

Student Dining

  • Dining will continue to be offered in a to-go model through the Triton2Go app or in person. Indoor dining will remain closed.
  • Retail and dining facilities have been reconfigured to provide one-way traffic into and out of spaces. Acrylic barriers, cashless transactions and near-field-communication card readers will be utilized to limit contact between people.
  • Prepackaged food products will be offered, and mobile ordering and take-out will be encouraged. Limited outdoor seating options are expected to be offered.
  • All public areas are disinfected frequently, with hand sanitizer dispensers placed at the entrances of all dining and market locations.


Employees working remotely should continue to do so
  • The health and safety of our employees is a priority at UC San Diego. We are grateful to employees who have remained on campus to complete critical functions throughout the pandemic.
  • Campus staff employees who are currently working remotely successfully should continue to do so at least through May 31, 2021 (unless otherwise notified by your supervisor or vice chancellor). Academic appointees should likewise continue working remotely except while teaching in-person in an assigned classroom, undertaking scholarship as part of an ORA-approved Return-to-Research plan, or working under a Return-to-Campus work plan approved by their vice chancellor. UC San Diego Health and Health Sciences staff should refer to Pulse for the most up-to-date information.
  • All UC San Diego employees (staff, faculty, research, clinical) who report to work on campus are required to get a COVID-19 test on a weekly basis unless they had COVID-19 in the last 90 days. Tests will be provided for free and during normal working hours. Employees should consult with and coordinate with their supervisors about when they will be tested with the goal of minimizing disruptions to campus operations. Learn more on the Employee Screening and Testing page.
  • Some—but not all—student-facing staff may be asked to return to on-campus work. Staff will be contacted by their Vice Chancellor or supervisor, who will work closely with individuals to develop a plan for returning safely.
  • Maintaining lower densities of individuals on campus is important to provide space for proper physical distancing during the pandemic. For this reason, UC San Diego is taking an incremental approach to increasing the number of employees working on-site on campus. Maximum ratio of faculty and staff on campus is expected to be below 25 percent of normal operations.
  • All UC San Diego staff, faculty and student employees who are reporting to campus or any other physical UC San Diego location for work must conduct a daily self-screening for COVID-19 symptoms and exposure and report any symptoms. The symptom screening tool can be accessed from a computer or mobile device.
  • Student employees will need to register once before completing the daily student self-screening. Campus employees can register once and complete daily self-screening on Blink.
  • All return to work plans will be reviewed by the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and endorsed before final review by their vice chancellor. Only after vice chancellor review and approval of the plan will employees be permitted to return to on-campus work.
  • See additional Guidance to Vice Chancellors for Staff Return to Campus (PDF).

Learn more about COVID-19 information for employees.

Research Activity

Certain low-density research and other endeavors may resume on campus
  • On-site research that has already been approved via the Research Ramp Up process will continue at current levels.
  • Students who wish to continue approved on-site activity advancing their education (e.g., thesis or dissertation research, 199, training rotations) may do so, but no student should be pressured. Researchers are reminded to follow all safety requirements, including completing their daily symptom/exposure screening.
  • In order to reduce the opportunity for community spread of COVID-19, the Research Continuity Task Force identified a personnel density of 25% of normal operations as appropriate. Due to the state’s Regional Stay at Home Order we are currently in a “hold in place” model.
  • All research plans are reviewed by department chairs, deans, Environmental Health and Safety, and Research Affairs, and all personnel on-site for research must commit to safety compliance.
  • Our research ramp-up activity is being conducted in accordance with state and local public health orders, CDC recommendations, and campus guidelines regarding physical distancing, reduced population density on-site, use of face coverings or personal protective equipment, and disinfecting protocols.

Learn more about Research Ramp-Up.

Winter Plan Updates

Due to the dynamic public health situation, UC San Diego will remain flexible. As has been the case since the beginning of this unprecedented challenge, the University’s plans may change as the pandemic evolves and government and public health authorities respond. While the California reopening plan is executed and assessed at each phase, UC San Diego will notify campus community members of any changes to their learning and work situations as appropriate. In all decisions, the health and safety of students, employees and local communities will be paramount.