One California university is teaming up with city leaders to create a safe haven for all students and community members.
In the fall, the University of California, Davis and the City of Davis launched a citywide initiative called Healthy Davis Together. The program provides COVID-19 testing, PPE, and quarantine housing — free of charge — for all members of the community.
UC Davis Vice Chancellor of Finance Kelly Ratliff explained that the program was originally created to transform the city and campus into a safe, virus-free environment.
“We’re a college town, so we like to say the virus doesn’t know where the edge of campus is, so why wouldn’t we find a way to incorporate the community into this amazing program,” Ratliff said.
The multi-million dollar program consists of free saliva testing for anyone who lives or works in Davis. The goal is to have everyone test for the virus at least twice a week to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Each test costs about $10, and results are provided in less than a day. So far, more than 185,000 tests have been administered since the program launched, with around 15,000 tests administered per week, Ratliff explained.
UC Davis students are also helping to combat virus and vaccine misinformation circulating throughout the city.
"We call them Aggie Public Health Ambassadors, about 250 students who are both taking public health science curriculum," said Ratcliff. "So they’re learning and they’re out and about on campus, in the city, so they’re helping and educating folks."
Currently, only 1% of classes are being held in-person at UC Davis. However, they plan to have 5-10% return this spring and all students back on campus in the fall.
Mayor Gloria Partida shared that the past year has been difficult for Davis, since the city heavily relies on its student community. The city has 69,000 residents, with students comprising nearly one-third of the population.
"Our businesses are really suffering with the lack of students," said Partida. "The students are really what drive our economy and when they’re gone it’s really really tough. So the faster we can get back on our feet the better."
UC Davis’ partnership with the City of Davis aims to boost the economy by providing gift cards for people to spend at local businesses. To further help residents reduce the spread of the virus, the initiative also provides housing for anyone who needs to quarantine.
The mayor noted that on average, 100 asymptomatic people are testing positive for the virus each week. Already, 850 individuals have been able to self-isolate before spreading the disease to others.
“Not everyone has the ability to quarantine if they have family members or roommates, so we provide a space where people can quarantine for two weeks, and that’s free of charge, and so that is a very important resource,” Partida said.
Ratliff, who is in charge of finance operations at UC Davis, said the initiative costs $2.5 million per month, which they’ve been able to fund through donations, CARES Act money, and state and federal grants.
“We think the combination of vaccines and broader vaccine distribution, plus the availability of this testing that’s really easy and convenient for folks, will help us have a safe environment so we can restart in the fall,” she added.
Ultimately, Ratliff said she is proud of how her community and alma mater have come together to find solutions that will help Davis bounce back from the pandemic. In the future, the university plans to write a playbook that other cities and universities can follow to achieve similar safe environments in their communities.