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Return to Learn 

On March 9th, 2020 UC San Diego students, faculty, and staff were notified of a Stay at Home order and asked not to return to work or school to support social distancing measures to limit the spread of COVID-19. Faculty were asked to provide the last few weeks of instruction before finals entirely remote. Over a few days, the student census dramatically decreased from 15,000 on-campus undergraduate and 5,000 graduate students, to a total of 5,000 students. On-campus staff was reduced to the bare essential. Top researchers at UCSD created infectious disease modeling to demonstrate what it would take to “Return to normal.” OSI was tasked with operationalizing the science.

As program director of UC San Diego’s Return to Learn program, Operational Strategic Initiatives (OSI) has played an integral role in keeping our campus community safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. OSI has used lean, agile, and design-based thinking methodologies to bring the three adaptive pillars of public safety - risk mitigation, viral detection, and intervention – from concept to full-scale implementation. OSI provides ongoing optimization, change management, and logistical support as the pandemic continues to evolve. 

Behavior Modification and Change Management (August 2020 - present)

Triton Health Ambassador program started in August 2020 on-campus to advance social norming and compliance. OSI worked closely with UC San Diego researchers and social scientists to promote behavior change that aligned with public health recommendations, such as mask-wearing, social distancing, and testing. Well-informed behavior change strategies paired with clear and accessible messaging resulted in relatively low levels of on-campus COVID transmission.  

Campus-Health FEMA/COVID-19 Coordination (March 2020 - present)

OSI attended twice weekly (now bi-weekly) campus/health coordination meetings designed to plan and coordinate financial and budgetary responses to COVID-19, including identifying new sources of funding and maximizing recovery of funds spent on COVID-19 related efforts.  OSI presence helped ensure discussions were operating with the most up-to-date official RTL policies/procedures.

Communications, Inbox, and Website (May 2020 – present)

In May 2020, OSI and University Comms developed a multipronged approach to communications through the creation of the Return to Learn website, Return to Learn Weekly newsletter, and on-site signage to keep the campus community informed of the most recent COVID campus plans, activities, and resources. Additionally, OSI staff managed the Return to Learn email inbox and responded to thousands of inquiries from students, faculty, staff, other organizations, universities, and community members about COVID testing, vaccinations, troubleshooting issues related to the RTL program, and much more.

Contact Tracing with San Diego County and UC San Diego (August 2020 - Present)

Beginning in August 2020, OSI helped execute a contract between San Diego County and UC San Diego to conduct COVID-19 contact tracing for all 18 – 29 year olds in the region. This included developing a contact tracing team for the University in conjunction with the new UC San Diego School of Public Health, as well as piloting the CA COVID Notify technology on campus. This smartphone technology helps reduce the spread of the virus by making anonymous notifications to individuals when a COVID-19 exposure may have occurred. Most recently, OSI has established a Return to Campus support team for Fall 2021.

Creation of EXCITE Lab (July 2020 – present)

In partnership with Drs. Rob Knight, Gene Yeo, and Louise Laurent, OSI helped launch the Expedited COVID IdenTification Environment (EXCITE) lab to create a diverse supply chain, HIPAA secure IT infrastructure, and enough capacity to serve the campus and community.  OSI identified space to meet CLIA specifications and EUA guidelines for SARS-COV-2 testing and assisted in hiring, strategic sourcing, and logistical alignment. This support enabled the EXCITE lab to scale up from a 200 daily test capacity for campus students and employees to 2500.

Data Analytics and Dashboards (October 2020 - present)

OSI created the UC San Diego COVID-19 Daily Dashboard to provide data and transparency on UC San Diego students and campus employees (including general campus and Scripps Institution of Oceanography). The dashboard website is embedded with the following dashboards: Wastewater; Potential Workplace Exposure; Testing and Positivity (Student and Employee); and Contact Tracing.

Flu Vaccine (October 2020 – November 2020)

Flu Vaccine Clinic was created at Price Center on the UC San Diego campus to complement the COVID testing clinic. Students and employees received free flu vaccinations at Price Center throughout the fall and winter season. It was the first time campus employees were required to receive a vaccination to be on the worksite. OSI project managed the launch of the clinic in conjunction with Student Health Services, and successfully vaccinated thousands of students and employees.

Logistics and Supply Chain (May 2020 – present)

The Return to Learn program is a large-scale and complex logistical undertaking, requiring the careful alignment of ITS, Campus Procurement, Health Procurement, Campus Logistics departments. OSI worked to integrate these departments to identify and deploy media, swabs, and test sites, develop phone apps for scanning and linking samples, and quickly increase staffing support. OSI successfully accelerated and scaled up testing to meet the university’s high demand for testing. OSI also provided financial stewardship and oversight over all Return to Learn costs, including staffing, testing and lab costs, and supplies.

Partnership with CALM Lab (May 2020 - present)

Center for Advanced Laboratory Medicine (CALM), OSI, and UC San Diego researchers developed a robust asymptomatic PCR testing strategy in May 2020 designed to detect potential outbreaks as early as possible. Using core tenets of redundancy, resiliency, bilateral scalability, and ease of access, the CALM Lab was able to scale up from 600 to 6,000 nasopharyngeal swab tests per day and utilized two primary testing platforms (Roche and Abbott) in case the reagent supply was impacted.

Piloting for testing and screening (May 2020)

With a two week lead time, OSI led a three-week pilot program using an adaptive design to assess the operational feasibility (based on infectious disease and epidemiological modeling) of self-administered sampling and its acceptance by UC San Diego residential students. The pilot program used iterative improvement techniques of engagement strategies to promote testing adherence, while also refining the Daily Huddle process approach to reduce turnaround time from 12 minutes to 7 minutes per self-administered test, and isolating and reducing key issues. As a result, 1,578 tests were self-administered, with 0 positive results from the 1,483 that were successfully processed (95 were unable to process due to off-campus students, nonstudents, defective material, etc.). 


Furthermore, OSI onboarded, aligned, and introduced multiple organizations from across campus that had limited or no prior working relationships. These included CALM lab, campus IT, Health system IT, Student Health clinic, campus logistics, campus procurement, health system procurement, university communications and student communications, Emergency Operations Center, Campus Housing, Public Health, Epidemiology, and Infectious Disease, and others.

Rapid Intervention Framework (March 2020 - present)

To ensure that UC San Diego can respond rapidly to the emerging COVID-19 trend, OSI and campus leadership created the Rapid Intervention Framework, made up of the COVID Monitoring Team, COVID Response Team, Campus Operations Group, RTL Steering Committee, RTL Lab Group. These groups provide a structure and process for active oversight and evaluation of trends in health, behavior, and facilities usage data, formulation of calibrated recommendations for immediate modifications in campus activities, and swift forwarding of recommendations to the Chancellor and EPG in response to COVID events currently impacting the campus community.

RIMAC COVID-19 Vaccine Site (February 2021 – May 2021)

In coordination with UC San Diego Health, OSI helped launch a COVID vaccination site at Recreation, Intramural and Athletic Complex (RIMAC) on February 8, 2021. This marked the first on-campus COVID vaccination location, serving UC San Diego Health patients and UC San Diego faculty and staff. Campus and Health teams vaccinated over 97,000 people and helped create a safer community. The RIMAC Vaccination site closed in May 2021 and will be replaced with a vaccination site at Price Center.

Return to Campus for Employees (December 2020 - present)

OSI is part of the Campus HR Core Team to work with each individual Vice Chancellor unit to coordinate the return of employees to work in-person on campus, including campus wide surveys and IdeaWave to understand and incorporate employee needs. OSI is supporting and planning for each campus unit’s overall readiness and data tracking for campus employees. By September 1, the campus will be operationally ready to welcome thousands of students, faculty and staff to campus in-person for the fall quarter.

Student Move-In & On-Campus Housing (August 2020 – present)

When COVID-19 testing was mandated for students residing on or coming to campus for Fall 2020, OSI coordinated the development and operational processes of a mass testing center with 18 testing tents for provider administered nasal swab testing of over 9,000 students over 11 days. 3,000 graduate students and 1,000+ undergraduate  students resided on campus during summer and 600 rooms set aside for isolation and quarantine during Fall Quarter. In total, UC San Diego was able to provide housing for the following:
  • Fall Quarter Housing:
    • ≈9,300 students living on campus
    • ≈15,000 total students with some on-campus presence (Grad + UG)
  •  Winter Quarter Housing:
    •  ≈7,500 UGs in single rooms (≈+1,500)
    • ≈3,000 Grads in single apartments

Town Halls (July 2020 – present)

Starting in July 2020, OSI ran regularly scheduled Return to Learn Town Halls in order to keep UC San Diego faculty, researchers, staff, and students informed of operational changes related to the pandemic, provide answers to common questions, build transparency, and create trust. Recordings of the monthly Town Halls can be found on the Town Halls page.

Vending Machines (December 2020 - present)

OSI helped operationalize self-administered testing through the creation of on-campus vending machines. Launched in December 2020, Vending machines were a novel method to provide free self-administered testing to thousands of students and employees per day. Various shred bins were repurposed to serve as secure sample collection boxes across the campus. By providing a secure method to administer and receive samples across the campus, the University was able to reduce testing costs dramatically. While testing is no longer mandated for all students and employees, it will be required for non-vaccinated employees and students, for symptomatic students and employees, and will be triggered for specific people by positive a wastewater positive related to their monitored building on campus, as well as for anyone who needs or desires a test. Recently, the vending machines were equipped with campus card swipe for fraud prevention and to reduce defects in the process.

Wastewater Monitoring (August 2020 – present)

Wastewater testing units were deployed in August 2020 to enhance the UCSD’s viral detection strategies through advanced technologies provided by the Knight Lab. OSI coordinated efforts between researchers, logistics, analytics, and procurement to scale wastewater monitoring from 3 units to 200 and then to align downstream testing processes for positive monitoring results. OSI continues to work with stakeholders for issue resolution, and the scaling up and down of the program with the academic year and employee census.