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News Release

San Diego Unified, UC San Diego Reach Deal on COVID-19 Testing for Students, Staff
Posted on 11/10/2020
Women & Children in Facemasks




November 10, 2020


SAN DIEGO -- Students and school employees throughout San Diego Unified will receive regular COVID-19 tests with rapid results under a proposed agreement with UC San Diego Health. The testing program is the result of months of collaboration among the district, the San Diego Education Association, and UC San Diego in an effort to keep schools safe as in-person instruction is expanded gradually and in phases.    


The San Diego Unified Board of Education is meeting tonight to authorize an initial $5 million investment in the testing plan, which includes a joint laboratory services testing agreement with UC San Diego Medical Center. Following approval, the county’s largest school district and UC San Diego Health will select several campuses where testing will begin. Eventually, the program could be expanded to include all 100,000 students within the district and its more than 10,000 staff members.  


From the beginning of the pandemic, UC San Diego Health has provided expansive and growing COVID-19 testing services to patients, university faculty, students and staff and to external organizations and communities. UC San Diego Health’s Center for Advanced Laboratory Medicine can process thousands of COVID-19 tests per day, covering multiple types of testing. Results are typically returned within 24 hours. This capacity continues to grow. 


“This testing program is an essential part of our plan to continue teaching students in the middle of a global pandemic,” Superintendent Cindy Marten said. “The science is clear. We can prevent 90 percent of disease spread at schools simply by putting in place a robust testing program like the one we are announcing today.” 


Under the testing plan with UC San Diego Health, all employees and students would have access to PCR testing every two weeks on San Diego Unified campuses. Testing frequency would be adapted over time and based on virus and transmission rates, among other parameters. No decision has been reached on whether the testing would be mandatory, as district leaders say they want to assess voluntary compliance rates once implementation begins.


“Testing is the cornerstone of any plan to reopen our schools,” Pradeep K. Khosla, UC San Diego Chancellor said. “This important MOU agreement is part of a more comprehensive reopening strategy being developed by San Diego Unified with consultation from UC San Diego. Our faculty, researchers and clinicians continue to offer our planning expertise, best practices, and successful experience in reopening a large campus. We are pleased to share our growing knowledge with our community.”


San Diego Unified has been in close collaboration with UC San Diego since it jointly established strict health and safety guidelines  for reopening schools with a panel of its top scientific experts in August. Scientists from UCSD have worked closely with district leaders to protect students and staff from the airborne transmission of COVID-19 disease.

“We were all encouraged by news this week of a potential vaccine,” Board President John Lee Evans said. “But even if a vaccine should become available, we are talking about months and months before it would actually reach all our students and staff. That is why this testing agreement is essential to our continued ability to operate safely.”

San Diego Unified has advocated for a statewide testing program. Mayor Kevin Faulconer, Superintendent Marten, and San Diego Education Association President Kisha Borden sent a letter urging Gov. Gavin Newsom to focus on COVID-19 testing in schools on Oct. 16. That correspondence came on the heels of a letter to the governor from big city mayors, representing the 13 largest cities in the state -- and 11 million residents -- calling for more resources to be devoted to COVID-19 testing in schools.

San Diego Unified has been preparing for the safe reopening of schools for months with the purchase of $45 million in personal protective equipment (PPE) and other safety upgrades, including air filters, desk shields and hand sanitizing stations. The district has received some 200,000 masks in child and adult sizes from the state, along with 14,000 bottles of hand sanitizer. 


Quick, accurate testing is fundamental to any successful effort to reopen, whether it is schools or businesses, and to eventually returning to a sense of normalcy,” said Patty Maysent, CEO, UC San Diego Health. “Our physicians and scientists have been working this challenge since the first days of the pandemic. They have built rigorous models, systems and programs based on science, evidence and best practices. We are pleased to be a part of efforts to get children back into classrooms, safely.”


San Diego Unified elementary school teachers returned to campus to provide appointment-based, in-person instruction for students with the greatest needs on Oct. 13 under Phase 1 of reopening. 


"For teachers, the only thing more important than being back in their classrooms with students is their commitment to keep those students safe. This new testing plan is an important step towards keeping our students, families, staff and community safe,” Borden said. “For that reason, we are proud to be here today to support this crucial announcement. This is what our educators have been waiting for. Teachers, counselors, nurses and other SDEA members are eager to get back into the classroom as soon as it is safe to do so, and the key to that return rests with this testing plan.” 


Board Vice President Richard Barrera expressed hope the San Diego Unified - UC San Diego testing plan could be a model for other districts around the state to implement.


“This agreement represents the best of San Diego, where we understand the importance of coming together to tackle big problems,” Barrera said. “This collaboration between a world-class research school like UC San Diego and a world-class public school system, San Diego Unified, shows what is possible when we all focus on what is best for students.”



MEDIA CONTACT: Communications Director Maureen Magee (619) 381-7930