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— Education

The Year We Were Schooled by a Pandemic

Pandemics are a recurring tragedy in human history, but they don’t have to be

From the Black Death and smallpox through malaria, measles, mumps, SARS and Ebola, pandemics have always plagued humanity. Each provided painful lessons, and the degree of pain is often a reflection of human error—the same errors of the past continued into the present now and the future tomorrow.
The COVID-19 pandemic is the latest, but surely not the last. Still, I was surprised in early March 2020 when Nancy Binkin, MD, my infectious disease colleague in the Division of Epidemiology, told me, “Life as we know it is over.”

I studied the first recognized U.S. outbreak of COVID-19 in a Kirkland, WA nursing home. It was reported on February 28th that a virus had infected 129 people and killed 23. This happened near my longtime former home in the Seattle area and in one of the most capable public health systems in the United States.

I listened to the public federal bickering on March 7th about whether Americans on a cruise ship docked in the Bay Area should be allowed to disembark to care for the sick and protect those still healthy, and the unconscionable consideration that everyone should stay on board so that U.S. numbers of COVID cases would not double.

On March 9, 2020 Wilma Wooten, MD, San Diego County’s public health officer, announced that the first local case of COVID-19 had been identified. Eleven days later, UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep Khosla followed California Governor Gavin Newsom’s order and sent us home to quarantine in a major effort to flatten the curve of community spread.

In a few weeks, though, it became clear that community spread of COVID-19 had been going on silently in California and elsewhere for months, that the virus was spreading to every country in the world, that millions of deaths would occur, that vaccine development was likely the only way out, but widespread vaccination efforts were one to two years away — on an optimistic timeline.

In real-time, we saw that what was happening in Italy would happen in New York City and then in many other communities. We saw that we were woefully unprepared in terms of having adequate personal protective equipment for hospital workers, ventilators for the most seriously ill, accurate testing methods on a scale that would allow us to identify and isolate the infected, and the ability to coordinate a national or international response.

Our education by a modern pandemic had begun in earnest. I was beginning to understand the implications of Dr. Binkin’s prediction: There would be no aspect of population health, or arguably our daily lives, left untouched by the threat of COVID-19.

Before the emergence of COVID-19, on the 100th anniversary of the 1918 Influenza Pandemic, a special section in the November issue of the American Journal of Public Health was devoted to prescient reflections on the lessons learned and not learned during the past century.

These papers make clear that none of us should be surprised by the repeated history we observed in 2020. The accompanying editorial by Wendy E. Parmet and Mark A. Rothstein identified three leading attitudinal threats: hubris, isolationism and distrust.

These attitudes breed misinformation. In 1918, as in 2020, both pandemic viruses prompted all manner of misinformation, sometimes misguided, sometimes malign.

“The term “Spanish Flu” arose not because Spain was where the H1N1 flu virus originated, but because the Spanish press were among the only media permitted by their country to write freely about what was happening.”

Woodrow Wilson severely curtailed accurate reporting to Americans during the pandemic as a wartime measure when he signed the Sedition Act in 1918. It was repealed by Congress in December 1920.

In 1918, controversy existed about the usefulness and legality of face masks, which resulted in various pressure tactics by both sides of the debate. This led to San Francisco establishing a mandatory mask ordinance in October 1918 and an organized campaign against the law in 1919 by the Anti-Mask League of San Francisco.
A “public service announcement” published in the San Francisco Chronicle in October 1918 declared that “the man or woman or child who will not wear a mask now is a dangerous slacker.” I cannot help but wonder why solid research on the effectiveness of masking for the general public as a defense against viruses spread by respiratory droplets from person to person was so lacking 100 years later when Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, first commented on whether we should wear them. Eventually, mask mandates during COVID-19 were followed by news reports of angry protestors storming grocery stores to demand an end to enforced masking.

A highly transmissible and deadly global pandemic will unmask every weakness in our larger society, but in public health, our research unveils these weaknesses routinely. Our raised voices calling out the harms of poverty, gun violence, lack of health care and all manner of oppression are largely ignored.

The same inequalities that influence nearly every aspect of our lives, from education and employment to housing to health care, to the safety of front line workers and care of our most vulnerable older Americans have been highly visible during the COVID-19 pandemic. Already burdened by myriad social and economic disadvantages, people of color, women and essential workers, from store clerks to bus drivers, struggled to survive — and many did not.

Black, Latino and Native American communities were disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and died at rates far above those of white people.

Clearly, in the column of unlearned lessons, we must confront the fact that we tolerate too many preventable deaths among our fellow Americans when we could do so much better. Pandemics hold a mirror up to our complacency.

We all have our personal stories about the pandemic, and these range widely. My adult children remained employed and took care of each other while we chose not to risk visiting until vaccinated. We watched our daughter graduate from her master’s program via Zoom. I worried about my sister in New York City taking the subway. We were informed that my mother, who has Alzheimer’s disease and resides in a memory care facility in White Plains, NY, had COVID-19. We placed her in hospice care.

At the time, there were no readily available COVID-19 tests, and hospitals were overflowing. Health care staff at the memory care facility were sleeping in the building to avoid spreading the virus. I was terrified when a faculty colleague was hospitalized for many weeks with severe COVID-19, complicated by MRSA pneumonia.

Miraculously, and thanks to the compassionate work of our health care providers, both my mother and colleague survived. As an epidemiologist, I am acutely aware and greatly mourn that hundreds of thousands of Americans died, that we will never know the true number, and that the deaths will continue, even as we see transmission and mortality statistics decline, across the state and country with rising vaccination numbers.

I also know that we in public health will spend the next several decades trying to understand the full impact of the events of 2020 on those of us who survived COVID-19 across the holistic spectrum of physical, cognitive, emotional and mental health.

— Education

Reflections on Philanthropy in a Time of Crisis

Together, we have navigated the immense challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. I have had the privilege to be a part of some much-needed moments of hope in my role as associate vice chancellor for Health Sciences Advancement. Even in the face of uncertainty and unrest, there has been an outpouring of philanthropic support.

What stands out to me more than any dollar amount was the commitment of our community to our tripartite mission — comprising research, education and care — and the community’s dedication to ensuring UC San Diego was equipped to rise to the challenge of COVID-19 in addition to maintaining its incredible portfolio of projects spanning every facet of the health sciences.

Research has been a central focus of much of our work over the past year. With the onset of COVID-19, we knew that there were few places equipped to contribute to battling this new illness quite like UC San Diego. Thanks to the gifts of philanthropists such as the Tu Foundation — which gave $1 million in support of Dr. Davey Smith’s efforts to develop new diagnostics, therapies and ways to track the virus — we were able to immediately begin understanding and pushing back against COVID-19.

An anonymous donor made a significant gift in support of Dr. Lars Bode’s work, which was central to providing global guidance on COVID and breast milk, helping new families navigate caring for a newborn amidst a pandemic.

Philanthropy also allowed us to be a leader in the development and testing of COVID-19 vaccines, which we knew would be the key to beating this disease. Many others invested in our COVID-19 efforts, and not only to research.

As a public university, and one of the top in the nation for health sciences, education lies at the heart of our mission. With the emergence of COVID-19, we pivoted to online learning, but early on we knew that eventually, we would need to bring our students and faculty back to campus to continue their learning and research.

Return to Learn was a comprehensive program that allowed us to reopen campus safely.
Philanthropy was central to that. Even prior to the pandemic, the philanthropy of Dr. Herbert Wertheim, Vanessa Wertheim and the Wertheim family established The Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science which helped lead the way for Return to Learn.

Through a three-part strategy encompassing risk mitigation, viral detection and clinical intervention, we made sure that as we welcomed people back on campus, we limited their risk of exposure to the virus, kept an eye out for anywhere the virus might be present and supported students with COVID-19 so that their needs were met until they recovered.

UC San Diego Foundation Trustee Dene Oliver and his wife Elizabeth made the first major gift to our COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund, which expanded testing and diagnostics, advanced clinical trials and supported members of the UC San Diego community — including students — who faced various challenges due to COVID-19.

Gary and Jean Shekhter supported the San Diego Epidemiology and Research for COVID-19 Health (SEARCH) alliance, a collaborative study co-led by UC San Diego, Scripps Research and Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego aimed at helping local businesses and employees return to work safely. Working together was central to continuing operations on campus and beyond.

“As an academic medical center, we are committed to providing the very best health care to our community.”

Philanthropy played a critical role in our clinical response. From the very earliest days of the pandemic, we knew that in order to rise to the challenge of COVID-19, we would need to increase our capacity to care for people with the disease.

To that end, philanthropists such as Joe Tsai and Clara Wu, as well as the Conrad Prebys Foundation, made gifts that supported acquisition of resources for our care staff so that they were protected as they worked on the front lines.

The generosity of our community also allowed us to open La Jolla Family House, normally reserved for patients’ families, as an on-campus housing area for medical staff so that they could care for patients without endangering loved ones at home.

And when the day came when vaccines were finally available, philanthropy allowed us to distribute them quickly and efficiently. A partnership between us, the San Diego Padres, the County of San Diego and the City of San Diego allowed UC San Diego Health to establish a vaccine superstation in the parking lot of Petco Park. At its peak, the site was administering more than 5,000 doses per day — roughly 225,000 in total.

However, we also recognize that COVID-19 has had an outsized impact on communities of color and underserved neighborhoods. The Hood Family Foundation stepped in to support mobile vaccine clinics, pop-up sites in the neighborhoods where disparity was most prevalent, so that the people there had access to a lifesaving intervention.
But our donors remained cognizant of many other illnesses that weren’t taking a break because COVID-19 appeared.

made truly transformational gifts such as:

  • Hanna and Mark Gleiberman who helped establish Gleiberman Head and Neck Cancer Center, part of Moores Cancer Center, to redefine the way we understand and treat head and neck cancers.

  • Steven Strauss and Lise Wilson made a gift to the Cardiovascular Institute establishing the Strauss Wilson Center for Cardiomyopathy, allowing us to redefine care for heart disease.

  • Several families, including Iris and Matthew Strauss, Sally and John Hood, Karen and Don Cohn and Humberto and Czarina Lopez, all supported the creation of new endowed chairs across several health sciences areas.

  • Kristin Farmer, founder and CEO of ACES, made a gift to establish the Autism Comprehensive Educational Services (ACES) Innovation Project, advancing autism diagnosis research.

These and more, far more than a single article could do justice to, ensured that we continued battling old diseases even in the face of new ones. Philanthropy has been a vital part of every facet of UC San Diego Health and UC San Diego Health Sciences. The proof is in the thousands of gifts made — and the countless lives those gifts have impacted — in our region and around the world.

We are excited for what’s to come, but we cannot sustain and grow the level of achievement our physician-scientists, clinicians and students attain without the continued partnership of our community. You have brought us this far; we are eager to move forward with you at our side. Thank you.

— Education


Public health has never been more important

When COVID-19 first became publicly available, demand overwhelmed supply, prompting urgent, even desperate, online searches for scarce appointments, followed by long lines and hours of waiting at super stations and clinics.

But after the initial, eager throngs had bared their deltoid muscles to needles inoculating them against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, crowds thinned and in time super stations — temporary facilities erected to vaccinate large numbers of persons quickly and safely — were closed.

Hundreds of millions of Americans have received at least one dose of vaccine. Roughly half of the nation’s population has been fully vaccinated. But early data also exposes a stark truth: Underrepresented groups in the United States are bearing a disproportionate number of COVID-19 cases and deaths and are accessing vaccines at much lower rates.

“There is no genetic predisposition to COVID-19. People of color are severely impacted because of social determinants of health and disparities that have not been addressed,” said Argentina Servin, MD, MPH, assistant professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases and Global Public Health at UC San Diego School of Medicine. “In a high-income country, like the U.S., we should not see these disparities and gaps.”

“In a high-income country, like the U.S., we should not see these disparities and gaps.”

— Argentina Servin, MD, MPH

After watching friends and family suffer, and nearly losing her 80-year-old grandfather, Servin applied for and received a $3 million grant from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, part of the National Institutes of Health, to design a program to increase outreach, access and use of COVID-19 vaccines among Latinx and Black communities in six of San Diego’s most heavily affected neighborhoods.

Dubbed “Project 2VIDA!,” Servin and colleagues formed an intervention working group comprised of representatives from community and academic organizations to address challenges in the communities of San Ysidro, Chula Vista, National City, Logan Heights, Lincoln Park and Valencia Park.

The approach was founded on community-based participatory research. Rather than sit behind computers, the team donned their most comfortable walking shoes and canvassed homes and greeted patrons at cafés, grocery stores and other local businesses, engaging residents with questions related to vaccine hesitancy, addressing widespread misinformation and encouraging them to be vaccinated at one of the Project 2VIDA! mobile vaccine units or with its collaborator San Ysidro Health.

But public confidence in vaccination is fragile, especially among communities long suspicious about historical or institutional motivations. Servin said Project 2VIDA! is fighting an uphill battle against myths. Individuals say they do not want to be immunized for fear that the vaccines carry microchips that track their movements. They fear vaccine-induced infertility or safety due to a “rushed” launch. These misconceptions are all false, yet unfortunately common, experts say.

“We have to remind community members that vaccines have helped save millions of lives. Just a few generations ago, people lived under the constant threat of deadly infectious diseases, like smallpox, polio, hepatitis and the flu.”

— Adriana Bearse

“We have to remind community members that vaccines have helped save millions of lives. Just a few generations ago, people lived under the constant threat of deadly infectious diseases, like smallpox, polio, hepatitis and the flu,” said Adriana Bearse, promotion manager in the San Ysidro Health Research and Health Promotion Department.

Because the COVID-19 vaccine is an important part of stopping the pandemic, Servin said Project 2VIDA! seeks to implement and assess a COVID-19 vaccination protocol and establish a model for the rapid vaccination of Latinx and Black adults that can be implemented in other impacted communities.

Beyond community

Since no virus, recognizes borders, the binational region comprised of San Diego and Baja California, Mexico is significantly impacted by the pandemic.

Linda Hill, MD, MPH, professor and interim assistant dean for Community Border Health Partnerships in The Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science at UC San Diego, has spent most of her career addressing the public health needs of migrant workers, immigrants and refugees.

In late-2018, Hill began supporting government agencies with health screenings for asylum seekers entering the U.S., using a congregate sheltering model. At the time, she and a team of community and UC San Diego Health doctors were treating infectious diseases, such as scabies, chickenpox and influenza, but nothing as severe as COVID-19.

Since starting the asylum program in 2021, qualifying persons are now housed in hotel rooms to reduce the risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19. Hill and her team of community health workers and medical providers screen for COVID-19 and conduct house calls for approximately 250 guests per day, checking on pregnant women, providing hypertension medicine and other medications, and caring for acute illnesses. The team has been working seven days a week since March 1, 2021.

It’s a labor of love made up of a community of students from UC San Diego, San Diego State University and the University of San Diego; community health workers; medical residents from UC San Diego Health, Kaiser Health and Scripps Health; and clinicians from UC San Diego Health and the community.

“With 200 arrivals a day, and the challenges of travelers in a pandemic, in no time at all you have 600 people under your care.”

— Linda Hill, MD, MPH

“With 200 arrivals a day, and the challenges of travelers in a pandemic, in no time at all you have 600 people under your care,” said Hill. But Hill said the long hours are worth it, with the added bonus of having trainee participation.

“We are building future public health professionals who will understand and care for displaced populations, who will be committed to providing culturally competent care and who will address diversity and equity,” she said.

Hill has also been involved in projects managing the impact of COVID-19 on vulnerable populations in Mexico. Early in the pandemic, the Mexican border town of Tijuana was devastated by severe cases of COVID-19 and local hospitals experienced shortages of personal protective equipment for health care providers treating critically ill patients.

UC San Diego Health formed Aliados por Salud, a volunteer team of critical care doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists who collaborated daily with counterparts at Tijuana General Hospital to combine their knowledge and experience on how best to treat patients diagnosed with COVID-19.

For six months, the two hospital systems worked and learned together to manage severe cases and to secure donations of masks, face shields, goggles, pulse oximetry units and other supplies for Tijuana General Hospital.

In 2021, Hill and other UC San Diego colleagues, including Timothy Rodwell, MD, PhD, MPH; Richard Garfein, PhD, MPH; and Steffanie Strathdee, PhD, joined the Consulate General of Mexico in San Diego and various health agencies and universities in Baja California to conduct a survey of the prevalence of COVID-19 in the Mexican cities of Tijuana, Mexicali and Ensenada.

“This project is an example of binational cooperation and collaboration — government, academia and non-governmental organizations coming together to design public policies for the prevention, management and eventual eradication of COVID-19,” said Hill.

“Working directly in the communities most affected by disease or illness allows us to find innovative solutions that address unique challenges and have the greatest impact where it is needed most.”

— Education


A Q&A with James C. Nieh, PhD, professor of biological sciences, and graduate student Sumedha Ravishankar


  • Question

    How did your roles as teacher and student change during the pandemic?

    Answer:NIEH: Moving to fully remote education was challenging, especially during Spring Quarter 2020, when everyone was embarking on this experiment, and there were many aspects that we were unsure about. For many years, I have created video podcasts for my Animal Behavior course (BIEB 166). All notes, lectures slides, lecture readings and exercises were also available online. Thus, my biggest change was to only interact with students via Zoom and to give online exams.

    RAVISHANKAR: As PhD students, our lives revolve around our lab experiments. When the world went remote, I lost a core component of my livelihood. Unlike many of my friends, I couldn’t work from home in the same way they could. I couldn’t bring my bacteria or zebrafish home (that’s a MAJOR safety violation!). When we got the news that California was going into lockdown, I remember going into the lab for the last time to clean up and throw away bacterial cultures, effectively halting months of research. My role as a graduate student went from a full-time laboratory researcher to a work-from-home scientist. At first, I didn’t even really know what a work-from-home scientist looked like. I went from doing hours of infection research and imaging per day to zero. I used my time at home to read, write and do further analyses on my existing data. I was able to take a deep dive into the literature to get a better understanding of the state of the field, and how my work could further it. I was also able to write my thesis proposal and focus on developing a plan for the next four (or five or six) years of my PhD program. Instead of working on developing my research skills, I was able to hone my writing, public speaking and experimental design skills. Around June 2020, we were able to re-enter the lab and resume research part-time. Now, I try to ensure I make enough time for both in-person research and at-home reading and writing, as both are essential to being a successful scientist.

  • Question

    What were your biggest concerns at the beginning of the pandemic when the campus closed and education went remote?

    Answer:NIEH: I was not sure how the systems would handle the internet load of essentially all students in the United States going remote at the same time. There were concerns about our Canvas software crashing, and about the local networks at UC San Diego. I tried to prepare for this with multiple backups, mirroring all course materials and lectures onto separate cloud servers approved by the campus. However, this was only needed for a few days, and everything else went quite smoothly, a remarkable achievement for the campus and its hardworking staff. My second concern revolved around how the instructional assistants (IA) and I could provide equitable access for students in multiple, different time zones. How could we ensure that everyone could attend office hours and sections? We were fortunate to have several IAs and came up with a system to accommodate students who were at home across the globe.

    RAVISHANKAR: The severity of the pandemic became abundantly clear the day UC San Diego shut down. Thousands of students, myself included, were left uncertain about how they would graduate or continue with school, or when they’d next see their friends. My main concern was for my safety, and the safety of my peers. I was terrified to be around other people and out in public. But my anxiety over graduate school was constantly nagging at me. Would I still be on track to finish graduate school? What would happen to my research that was already in progress? So much of my scientific development comes from discussing science with others and learning from my colleagues. I work in an open lab space with five other labs, where collaboration occurs daily. This synergistic environment was gone, and I felt isolated. In terms of my education, I was primarily concerned with falling behind, losing the precious time I had to make discoveries in the lab, and missing out on working with my fellow graduate students. Remote learning can only go so far, especially when the majority of what I needed to do had to be in person.

Life lessons: Sumedha Ravishankar is a fourth-year PhD student studying bacterial infections that affect the nervous system.

“At the end of Spring Quarter 2020, we saw a huge increase in student stress as they grappled with the important issues brought up by the racial justice movements around the country.”

— James C. Nieh, PhD
  • Question

    How did your expectations of teaching and student performance change? Was the school year better, worse or about the same?

    Answer:NIEH: At the end of Spring Quarter 2020, we saw a huge increase in student stress as they grappled with the important issues brought up by the racial justice movements around the country. Because of the pandemic, my expectations had already shifted to focus more upon what students were able to achieve and learn, given the pandemic. I think the concept of advancement within opportunity, evaluating what individuals are able to achieve and thinking more broadly about what constitutes achievement, was very helpful. Essentially, having honest conversations with students about learning and grading is necessary. For example, like many other instructors, I adopted a “no fault” final exam policy in which students could raise their grades via the final, without penalizing them. I think that it will take time to better understand the impact on learning, but I hope that shifting the focus away from grades toward learning through opportunities gave students the breathing space they needed during this difficult time.

    RAVISHANKAR: UC San Diego shut down in March of 2020. I started my PhD program in September 2018, so I was just wrapping up my second year and my first year in my thesis lab. I was just getting ready to begin conducting research in earnest, after having found my bearings in the lab. I had pretty high expectations for the year, and was hoping to make significant progress in my research. However, after the school shut down, I was forced to take a step back from lab work. I had no idea what the timetable for our return to the lab would be, and watching the cases exponentially increase, it seemed like we were in the pandemic for the long haul. Around this time, there was a resurgence of civil rights advocacy and awareness, galvanized by the brutal murder of George Floyd. Re-energized, I shifted my focus to science outreach and co-founded an organization that is geared toward increasing underrepresented minority retention in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and creating a safe community for our minority students. Along with my fellow graduate student, Tara Spencer, and biological sciences faculty member Dr. Sonya Neal, we co-founded the Biology Undergraduate and Master’s Mentorship Program (BUMMP). Our primary aim is to ensure that our undergraduate and master’s students at UC San Diego, who are underrepresented in science, are reminded that they belong in STEM by providing them with a scientific mentor and funding to do research. I am so thankful for the amazing work we’ve been able to accomplish with BUMMP. We have raised more than $150,000 to award scholarships for our undergraduate and master’s students. This year ended up being far more successful than I had anticipated when the pandemic began.

“The following Monday, UC San Diego went into lockdown and our labs shut down. I will never forget the pure confusion, fear and hopelessness that I felt. A little over a year later, we’ve made it through, but that moment still feels fresh.”

— Sumedha Ravishankar
  • Question

    What would you do differently if you had to do 2020 all over again?

    Answer:NIEH: think I would have taken a more relaxed approach. I wanted everything to work out and so we spent a lot of time and energy creating backups and worrying about online exams and how to ensure that students could learn and perform in the same way as they did in person. In retrospect, this was not a realistic expectation. Given the pandemic and the racial reckoning, it now seems that I should have relaxed a bit and dedicated that extra time and energy to conversations with students, including how events outside of the classroom were affecting their lives. The mantra “keep calm and carry on” perhaps should have shifted to “keep calm and carry on, but recognize that that this is a very difficult time and the same expectations cannot not apply.”

  • Question

    Was there any particular moment/ conversation/ event from the pandemic that you think will stick in your mind forever?

    Answer:NIEH: For me, there was no striking moment. But I will always remember the first few weeks of class when everyone was still adjusting to this new Zoom world. There were a lot of blank screens in the beginning and reluctance to talk. Students mainly texted questions. But in the third to fourth week, this began to break down and students actually showed their videos and asked questions in person: a wonderful small step forward!

    RAVISHANKAR: The week before we went into lockdown, my lab mate and I were talking about all the news articles that were circulating about a flu-like infection that was taking over China. There was so much information that we really didn’t know what to believe. We were in our lunchroom, eating and chatting, talking about how we thought people were overreacting and that it was just like the flu: no big deal. The next night, we were with a few friends for our weekly The Bachelor (the TV show) viewing night. We suddenly got a notification that the NBA was stopping its season. That’s when we realized that we were about to live through a historic event. The following Monday, UC San Diego went into lockdown and our labs shut down. I will never forget the pure confusion, fear and hopelessness that I felt. A little over a year later, we’ve made it through, but that moment still feels fresh.

  • Question

    What changes do you hope will continue beyond the pandemic?

    Answer:NIEH: Multiple aspects of remote learning are here to stay. I think that many more instructors will now feel more comfortable about video podcasting, putting their lecture materials online and generally increasing access. There are small but significant changes that will help students. For example, several students have told me that automatic, closed captioning of video-recorded lectures was very helpful. I hope that most instructors will adopt this for the future. Open-book exams and writing tests that evaluate knowledge, not only memorization, are also important legacies of the pandemic.

    RAVISHANKAR: This year was tough for so many, with countless lives lost and a lack of much-needed human interaction. Despite that, there were positives to come out of the pandemic that I hope we continue to see in the future. There was an emphasis on mental health for graduate students this year, and I hope we continue to prioritize our well-being above our daily grind. Additionally, having meetings on Zoom allowed me to attend more seminars than I would have before the pandemic. Scientists from all over the world were able to give talks that anyone could join. I hope we continue to use Zoom as a platform for various meetings and conferences to encourage greater attendance. Finally, I hope we all continue to wash our hands and practice clean habits! I haven’t gotten sick in over a year, so I hope we maintain this level of mindfulness.

Proof is in the pooping:

— Education


For Betial Asmerom, medicine is in sore need

Down on one knee in pristine white coats, UC San Diego School of Medicine students rallied against a public health emergency — systemic racism — that had been catapulted into the public eye by the death of five African Americans in five separate incidents over a five-month period in 2020.

Ahmaud Arbery was gunned down while jogging. Breonna Taylor was shot and killed during a botched police raid on her apartment. Daniel Prude and George Floyd both died while under police restraint: Prude while suffering from a mental health episode, Floyd for suspicion of using a counterfeit $20 bill. Rayshard Brooks was fatally shot by police responding to a call of a man asleep in his car at a fast-food restaurant.

Betial Asmerom, a fourth-year medical student and one of the organizers of the student protest, said that for years Black, Latino and Indigenous medical students had been organizing to call attention to racism and disparities in medical education and health care.

“I don’t know if the nation was ready to have these conversations about race before. I’ve been raising the flag on these issues since I was in high school. People in power have to be receptive to have these conversations if we want to make any change. Enough was enough.”

— Betial Asmerom

The deaths of Arbery, Taylor, Prude, Floyd and Brooks resulted in wide-scale demonstrations protesting police abuse and racial injustice in the United States.

Students like Asmerom choose medical education as a way to learn how to heal. In a country roiling with anger, racial tensions and despair, they felt the call to heal even stronger. But it would not be an easy task, and the concurrent COVID-19 pandemic, which was disproportionately impacting communities of color, would only make things harder.

“My family are immigrants from Eritrea. I chose medicine because I want to serve my community and all communities impacted by inequity,” said Asmerom, who is enrolled in a dual-degree program called the UC San Diego School of Medicine Program in Medical Education – Health Equity. She has already earned her master’s degree in public health, with her medical degree soon to follow.

The collision of the anti-racism movement and glaring health care inequities sharpened by the pandemic prompted Asmerom to speak out louder and more boldly.

“When we first started hearing about the pandemic and all the data coming out, one of the first things I said was ‘I can’t wait until data on the pandemic is published by race. I already know what it’s going to say,’” said Asmerom.

“These events really lit me up to keep my focus on equity and advocacy work because we’ve seen, in the pandemic, how people of color have been disproportionately impacted, and yet not prioritized in the solutions to mitigate the impact of the pandemic.”

“My family are immigrants from Eritrea. I chose medicine because I want to serve my community and all communities impacted by inequity,”

— Betial Asmerom

Black medical students at UC San Diego did not mince their words. In a publicly published letter, they wrote that they were “tired of asking our institutions to be better for us and for society.” They called for a commitment from both the university and the health system to become anti-racist institutions.

Leadership heard the concerns, fears and worries of not just students, but the echoing words of faculty and staff. They identified four immediate actions to foster an environment supportive of Black and underrepresented minorities in medicine.

Among the steps was mandating an anti-racism training program; implementing a new policy to address racism and discrimination from patients and visitors at UC San Diego Health hospitals and clinics; hiring leaders in equity, diversity and inclusion for UC San Diego Health Sciences and the health system; and the creation of an Anti-Racism Task Force.

Because of her leadership roles in regional and national student organizations and her commitment to equity, UC San Diego Health CEO  Patricia Maysent hired Asmerom as a project consultant on anti-racism initiatives for the health system.

Among Asmerom’s proudest achievements as a consultant is her role on the COVID-19 vaccine committee.

UC San Diego Health collaborated with community-based organizations to deploy mobile vaccine clinics into the San Diego communities most impacted by COVID-19 in order to reach more patients more effectively, and help ease barriers, such as access, lack of transportation to vaccine appointment sites and distrust in health care providers outside of local communities.

“Being able to help with equitable vaccine distribution, and doing it in a way that intentionally centers on the needs of minoritized communities, represents the kind of care I want to provide as a physician, and I get to do it while still in medical school. I see the impact on communities that look like me. I see the gratitude on their faces. I get to use these platforms to ensure that my community is taken care of in a meaningful way,” said Asmerom.

“I hope that this momentum is not lost, that we continue to center equity and talk about racism in a really honest and authentic way so that we continue to make strides toward making UC San Diego, the medical school, the health system and the country a more equitable place for Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other minoritized groups. We cannot fall back into a pattern of ignoring the people who are the most marginalized and hurt by inequitable systems.”

— Education


As the virus spread, so too did rumors, fake news and fraud

One adverse side effect of pandemics is the corresponding outbreak of misinformation and scams, the latter both medical and financial. They are as inevitable as, well, the pandemics themselves.

The spread of misinformation, intentional or not, has been rampant during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A Brookings Institution study in late-2020, using monthly data from the Franklin Templeton-Gallup Economics of Recovery Study, found significant variation in understanding of COVID-19 facts which, in turn, distorted public policies and behaviors.

Not all of the misinformation, particularly on social media, was promulgated by human beings, however. At least not directly. For example, in a research letter published June 7, 2021, in JAMA Internal Medicine, a diverse team that included UC San Diego scientists found that significant misinformation about face masks and COVID-19 was spread by “bots,” autonomous software programs that allow individuals to generate content and share it broadly via numerous automated accounts, amplifying messaging.

Specifically, first author John W. Ayers, PhD, associate professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases and Global Public Health at UC San Diego School of Medicine, and colleagues measured how quickly links were shared in a sample of 300,000 posts to Facebook groups that shared 251,655 links. They found that links shared by Facebook groups most influenced by bots averaged 4.28 seconds between shares, compared to 4.35 hours for Facebook groups least influenced by bots.

One in five of the posts made to Facebook groups most influenced by bots claimed masks harmed the wearer, contrary to scientific evidence. The World Health Organization has called the phenomenon an “infodemic of misinformation.” While the purpose of misinformation is to give it freely and often, the COVID-19 pandemic also provoked an abundance of efforts to essentially take, mostly money in the form of bogus COVID-19 products and therapies.

Writing in the August 25, 2020 issue of the Journal of Medical Internet Research Public Health and Surveillance, UC San Diego School of Medicine researchers found thousands of social media posts on two popular platforms — Twitter and Instagram — tied to financial scams and possible counterfeit goods specific to COVID-19 products and unapproved treatments.

Lead author Timothy Mackey, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Anesthesiology, and colleagues surveyed the internet between March and May 2020 using a combination of Natural Language Processing and machine learning to identify nearly 2,000 fraudulent postings “likely tied to fake COVID-19 health products, financial scams and other consumer risk.”

“We’re in a post-digital era and as this boom of digital adoption continues, we will see more of these fraudulent postings targeting consumers as criminals seek to take advantage of those in need during times of crisis.”

— Timothy Mackey, PhD

Mackey’s research team continues to do research on fake COVID-19 products, including vaccines and vaccination cards, through a sponsored project with Google.

“We’re in a post-digital era and as this boom of digital adoption continues,” said Mackey, “we will see more of these fraudulent postings targeting consumers as criminals seek to take advantage of those in need during times of a crisis.”

3 tips for identifying fraudulent posts or scams

— Education


The formula for UC San Diego’s Return to Learn success

UC San Diego entered 2020 in growth mode, well-positioned to advance progress toward the goals outlined in its long-term strategic plan to drive the physical, intellectual and cultural transformation of the university.

But the emerging public health crisis in Wuhan, China led renowned infectious disease expert Robert “Chip” Schooley, MD, professor of medicine and chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at UC San Diego Health to ask UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla what the university would do if forced to shut down for a prolonged period of time in response to the crisis.

While some universities took a wait-and-see approach, Khosla recognized the seriousness of the situation and knew that thoughtful and immediate action was necessary. He considered the university’s vast human, research and infrastructure resources, and knew UC San Diego was uniquely suited to address this challenge head-on.

Early action
was key

Khosla embraced the university’s deeply ingrained, interdisciplinary ethos to assemble experts from UC San Diego’s faculty, administration and staff to form a task force that could evaluate the rapidly changing situation, regionally and globally. “We assembled our emergency operations centers (EOC) for our campus and for our hospitals. The EOCs explored options and models for impacted operations,” said Khosla. “So, when the state mandated the shutdown in March 2020, we were already a step ahead.”

“We assembled our emergency operations centers (EOC) for our campus and for our hospitals. The EOCs explored options and models for impacted operations.”

— Pradeep K. Khosla

Students, faculty and staff were sent home. Mechanisms and platforms were quickly stood up and communicated to ensure everyone was supported through the transition. Remote operations were stabilized. A newly-formed Campus Operations Group rolled up its collective sleeves. And the necessary work of understanding detection, intervention and mitigation of the COVID-19 virus began with a singular goal: to return to in-person learning, research and service to the community in the safest way possible.

to Learn

On May 5, 2020, UC San Diego became the first university to announce a commitment to incrementally bring back a portion of its campus population in Fall 2020 through a flexible, multilayered and data-driven approach called Return to Learn or RTL.

RTL was built upon three key pillars: risk mitigation, viral detection and intervention. Khosla often referred to the approach as a “Swiss cheese” model. “Every layer has its holes,” Khosla told The New York Times in December 2020. “But put together, it’s a solid block.” Hundreds of employees and students successfully built and tested new systems and protocols on campus with a limited number of students, researchers, faculty and staff in advance of the fall quarter to ensure the feasibility and scalability of the plan. 

A Campus

Faculty reconfigured instruction for remote and hybrid learning, ensuring that the academic rigor of the university was upheld. Staff reimagined nearly every service to ensure access to important resources. UC San Diego’s Facilities Management team, with help from the university’s engineering experts, reconfigured the campus environment, including traffic flow.

Academic buildings, residence halls and retail and dining facilities were adapted to provide one-way traffic into and out of spaces. Experts like Kimberly A. Prather, PhD, UC San Diego Distinguished Professor and Distinguished Chair in Atmospheric Chemistry, served as a resource to guide updates and adaptations to airflow in campus buildings, helping promote circulation of fresh air flow and reduce disease transmission risks.

More than 200 critical custodial staff were devoted to enhanced cleaning and sanitization protocols, disinfecting light switches, elevator buttons, desk tops and other surfaces twice daily. And 1,500 hand-sanitizing stations were installed across campus.

Ready to

With confidence built through practice, UC San Diego put its plan into action and successfully welcomed 5,730 undergraduate students back to a transformed campus for the Fall 2020 quarter. Returning students were introduced to new safety protocols, including mandatory testing during move-in. The Student Code of Conduct was updated to establish clear expectations for student behavior and to remind students of the health consequences of risky behaviors.

On-campus residence housing was limited to 50 percent capacity, with all students residing in single-occupancy rooms. More than 600 beds on campus were reallocated to serve as isolation and quarantine housing for students who received a positive COVID-19 test result. These students would receive special support and access to care.

Bright banners, flags and digital signage were placed on light posts, public transportation, buildings and elsewhere throughout campus to encourage students and to keep safety awareness high. Ground markings signaling physical distance were located where students tended to congregate.

Case rates
remain low

UC San Diego defied the odds and demonstrated that a successful return to campus was possible. The 14-day COVID-19 positivity rate for UC San Diego students on and off campus averaged between 0.12 percent and 0.87 percent throughout Fall 2020. During that time, the positivity rate in San Diego County averaged between 2.7 and 8.7 percent.

A surge was anticipated when students returned from winter break in 2021, but the university was willing to increase campus density because the data was clear: The approach was working, and new innovations, such as the vending machines, were making it easier for students to comply with testing requirements and adhere to safety protocols.


There was a fourth and critical element to the success of RTL: students. The weakest link in any plan is human behavior. The nation saw this play out as other universities struggled to contain the virus after reopening their campuses in the fall of 2020.

But UC San Diego’s commitment to inclusion and innovation meant that students were involved in RTL from its inception. They were empowered to own the issue, plan and implement approaches in ways that worked.

By making meaningful contributions, the student community was invested in creating and sustaining a safe and fulfilling on-campus experience for everyone. Student leaders and Student Affairs came up with novel ways to engage students, including the creation of Triton Health Ambassadors.

More than 400 trained peer ambassadors/educators, easily recognizable by their bright yellow shirts, positioned themselves across campus to personally engage with students and provide important support by “catching” and recognizing positive behaviors and serving as resources for students seeking information.

“Our students behaved in an exemplary manner. I mean it was unbelievable,” Khosla said in an April 2021 interview with KPBS-TV. “We were expecting it, and they beat our expectations and then some. To me, they were the reason we were so successful.”

“We were expecting it and they beat our expectations and then some. To me, they were the reason we were so successful.”

— Pradeep K. Khosla


Collaboration with UC San Diego Health also guided campus efforts to keep positive case rates low. These efforts included:

— Education

Wisdom is Transmissible

Most of us learned and lived through an unprecedented crisis. What will we remember?

In grueling and revealing ways, the COVID-19 pandemic took our measure, both as individuals and as a society. It tested our empathy and compassion, our ability to regulate emotions, to self-reflect, to accept divergent perspectives, to advocate for the common good and to act with decisiveness.

These are all components of wisdom, empirically determined and the subject of ongoing scientific research. They are based in biology, correlating with distinct regions of the brain, which means they can be measured and modified. Each of these wisdom components, in combination with others like curiosity, sense of humor and spirituality, provide insight into how wise we are, where we excel and where we fall short. You don’t need maximum scores for every component to be wise. That’s nearly impossible. All humans are mixed bags.

And so too were our results in terms of how wisely we handled the pandemic. In the beginning, we all were scared, uncertain of what to expect or what to do. We received contradictory and changing advice from experts who were themselves unsure of what was happening. But then, slowly, the reality became clearer. We knew the danger but also developed an idea about what the eventual solution would be — vaccines.

For some of us, the pandemic prompted personal growth. We tapped or expanded reservoirs of compassion. We deepened relationships with our families and friends. We listened to others and acted reasonably and responsibly. We discovered new strengths. We became wiser.

For others though, things got worse, especially in the first months of the crisis. Rates of alcohol and drug use rose, as did overdose deaths and suicides, though the last two phenomena predate the pandemic and are consequences of very complicated social trends. Divisions and disputes abounded; the components of wisdom, like personal protective equipment at times, seemed in short supply.

But I cannot fault those who fell short, at least not too severely. The COVID-19 pandemic was a crisis unlike any other for most of us. It affected more people around the world, directly and indirectly, than any previous public health crisis in recent memory. In the early days, before widespread vaccination began to turn the tide, uncertainty, despondency and fear felt universal. Racial and socioeconomic disparities exposed and exacerbated harms.

Traditional customs and values were set aside. Social distancing became a necessary norm, but it initially brought with it a sense of rejection and rebuff. Why is that person crossing to the other side of the road? I remember attending meetings before we all retreated into the digital world of Zoom and extending naturally, automatically, my hand in introduction, only to quickly withdraw it. Fist and elbow bumps don’t quite convey the same personal connection.

“As individuals, some people rose magnificently to the occasion and challenges. Some hunkered down. Some individuals behaved in ways ranging from inappropriate to appalling.”

However, as a society, I think we responded well overall, even in the context of divided and divisive leadership in different arenas. Arguments and public displays over mask wearing were common. Opposition to this simple and extraordinarily effective way to reduce viral transmission and protect the health of others was notoriously vocal at times and in some places, but the fact is that most Americans wore masks when and where required — and they began doing so from the beginning.

Similarly, we got better at washing our hands and keeping our distance. We didn’t panic. There were crazy and unexpected shortages — remember grocery store shelves devoid of pasta and toilet paper? But these didn’t lead to riots. People, businesses and institutions found workarounds and solutions. We learned how to live differently.

A decade or two from now, historians and others will look hardest at case rates and deaths. In some ways, these massively tragic numbers reflect the successes and failures of our individual and communal behaviors, but mostly they are the product of a previously unknown virus with extraordinary transmissibility and a penchant to kill those with underlying risk factors, such as old age or pre-existing diseases.

To our credit and to all of the scientists and health care professionals at all levels, as well as others who raced to understand the novel coronavirus and how best to treat COVID-19, humanity has come out on the winning side. Not entirely and not without deep wounds and scars, but we’re here. Having largely controlled the virus in the U.S., we have started working on helping the less fortunate people in other parts of the world.

The question now is whether the pandemic has made us better and wiser, as individuals and as a society. No one predicted the precise scope and scale of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it is an absolute certainty that other pandemics will follow. The French novelist Marcel Proust (1871–1922) once wrote: “We don’t receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us.”

Are we wiser now than we were before SARS-CoV-2 became a well-recognized and much-dreaded collection of letters and numbers? I think so. I hope so. Time will tell.

— Education


The pandemic came in shades of gray; resilience, compassion and social justice arrived in a rainbow of colors

The first time I stepped foot on campus, all I could see was gray. Granted, my freshman orientation was in the middle of June, and San Diego has long been known for its June gloom. “It gets better, I promise,” my orientation leader told my skeptical group.

“The gray never lasts. You start with May gray. You survive the June gloom. And then finally, the sun comes, and it lasts for months and months. Then you’ll see. It’s called sunny San Diego for a reason.”

The first time I saw UC San Diego with my own eyes as an 18-year-old high school graduate, I hated it. It wasn’t just the sky that was gray. It was the buildings, the dorms, the hallways. As we ambled through Ridge Walk for our brief campus tour, I wondered how a campus that was almost 2,000 acres in size could be constructed entirely of concrete and sharp edges.

My orientation leader was right. The sun started peeking through the sharp edges when I moved in during the month of September 2017. Library Walk, which had been almost deserted when I last saw it, was pulsing with life. The voices were vibrant, inviting, intoxicating. Everyone wanted me to be involved. Everyone was excited. That made me excited.

With time, I began to find little cracks of color seeping through the gray. There were reds and greens in my professors’ slides during lectures. There were pinks and neutrals in the tones of my club members during our weekly meetings. There was a spot of blue if you tilted your head to look at the little house perched on top of the engineering building. And just across the way, the neon lights of the Stuart Arts art piece on the Center for Memory and Recording Research shot through the darkness of the night.

But the biggest reason I grew to love the campus was because of the people I would see every day. Hustling to class to make it for clicker points in the nick of time, stopping by a coffee shop for a quick caffeine buzz, walking with friends to one place or another. Not people I always knew, but students just like me. Trying to make the most of the time they had on the campus they called their home.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the colors I had grown accustomed to seeing slowly drained away. I used to love standing on the third floor of Geisel Library during passing period and peering over the edge to look at the flow of life underneath. You couldn’t see a single cobblestone on Library Walk, just a mass of students ebbing and flowing, the arteries pouring life into the campus gray. At the end of March 2020, right as everything was closing down, I stood on the third floor for the last time before I graduated. I could see the cobblestones again, and I knew nothing would be the same.

The pinks and neutrals of weekly club meetings became the familiar, colorless drone of Zoom gatherings that finished in half the usual time because the lively chatter was gone. Instead of seeing friends’ faces on the walk to class, I saw them through a camera screen. During the pandemic, we were isolated. We felt alone. The gray was back.

The past year has been a whirlwind blur for me — and I’m sure for many other students as well. We didn’t have much time to react. We were just forced to adapt. We didn’t have our annual events to look forward to. No Sun God, no Bear Garden, no Senior Send-off, no commencement.

I didn’t see any spark to reignite our student body until the civil unrest that rocked our country in the Summer of 2020 rose up to grip students of our own community. I saw these students stand, speak out, walk on the streets. I saw other students join in solidarity, offering to help. I saw students demand for justice. I was there. I wrote about it for the campus newspaper, and I saw the spark spread.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, students began to realize that maybe good grades weren’t everything that constituted a solid higher education. In our own quarantine bubbles, we wrestled with other demons. Depression and anxiety settling in during isolation. Family members and friends affected by the coronavirus. The loss of an entire year of their college education. As we navigated a roller coaster of emotions, we remained steadfast. We realized that our college experience was not just measured by the events we went to or the number of A’s on our transcript. It was measured by the memories we carried of the people who most mattered to us. So we kept finding ways to learn, to adapt, to grow. We kept looking for the color in the gray.

We set up our own Zoom movie and game nights. We watched livestreamed concerts with our friends. We sent letters through snail mail. We picked up new hobbies, found new shows to watch. We still graduated and held remote celebrations. We persevered.

Four years after I first set foot on campus, my in-person commencement ceremony was limiting and bittersweet. My family and friends could not be there, due to COVID-19 protocols. I missed them. But I knew they were watching on their screens somewhere, still celebrating with me. Even in the remote pandemic landscape, we students still figured out a way to be there for one another in spirit.

In my four years at UC San Diego, I voted in my first election, witnessed protests firsthand, made friends to last a lifetime and experienced a global pandemic. My college experience can be summed up in a rainbow of colors. And the greatest lesson I will always take away is the ability to find color in any shade of gray, regardless of where I find myself.

— Education

Despite the Pandemic, They Rebounded

For the UC San Diego women’s basketball team, it was a season to be remembered

After countless Zoom meetings, daily screenings, masked practices and some hopeful thinking, we got the green light to play in our first Division I women’s basketball competition against Cal Baptist University on December 21, 2020 at RIMAC Arena.

It had been nine months since we had last played a game together in the gym, and for a brief period, it felt like things were falling back into place. Because we were newcomers to the Big West Conference, we were considered underdogs and not expected to perform at the same level as everybody else.

That game, however, proved that we were not only capable but determined to show up and show out. We were up at halftime by three points and were eager to finish with a win. Of course, it was impossible to shut out the growing COVID-19 pandemic, and reality quickly set back in (I did say it was for a brief period of time).

As some might know, our game was cut short due to a potential positive test from the other team. While we were disappointed that we did not finish the game, we all came out of RIMAC Arena with the same electric energy, knowing that we could still compete and successfully comply with all the COVID-19 protocols and demands.

It quickly became obvious that we would all need to adapt a lot and often to continue with our season. This applied to all of our travel games, bus rides, locker room set-ups and meal distributions. Throughout the year, our team emphasized the importance of flexibility. We were told we would have to wear masks for the first eight weeks of practice. Fine. We would have to be tested three to four times a week to play. Great. All of our classes would be online for the foreseeable future. Awesome.

At one point, I would have to run to the end of the gym, whip out my computer or borrow someone else’s, take a 10-minute quiz, and then race back to the court to practice out-of-bound plays. We knew, though, that these were required steps if we wanted to play. We learned how to get creative with our conditioning and lifting workouts and developed new ways to cheer for each other on the sidelines. Our athletic training staff was determined to make sure that all tests and screenings were completed before entering the gym, not afraid to call out those who were behind. Our coaches made sure we kept our distance during drills and wore our masks when required. We established trust and accountability for one another.

“There was a mutual respect for everybody who had helped us get in the gym and play the sport we love.”

We made it a consistent goal to always remember how lucky we were; lucky that we were one of the few teams to have anything remotely close to a season; lucky that we were all healthy enough to run up and down the court; lucky that we had our friends and families to cheer us on through laptop and TV screens.

Many student-athletes over the past year or so weren’t as lucky. Many saw their college careers concluded without a proper send-off. We saw the pain in the eyes and faces of our seniors, who were with us in Hawaii for the NCAA first-round playoffs when we learned about the severity of COVID-19 and its ramifications for our season. Every game we played and every opportunity we had during practices and lifts, we did our best to remember that at any minute we could easily be in their shoes.

We were also reminded that, if we learned anything, it is that most things are bigger than athletics. As I write this, it is important to note that I can’t possibly speak for every person on our team because we all experienced our own individual struggles and hardships during the most insane year of our lives.

Between the ongoing social injustices in our country — highlighted by the Black Lives Matter movement — and the impact this pandemic continues to have on the collective and individual mental health of so many, it seemed impossible to think that college basketball would be a sufficient Band-Aid.

It wasn’t and isn’t.

But coming together to educate and support one another, as well as understand each person’s limits and comfort with the challenges each day offered, was a starting point. We made it a goal on our team to check in with each other and make the space between us as comfortable as possible. This was important to establish and maintain for both our physical and mental well-being. And for many student-athletes across the globe, the choice to come back and play was extremely personal. I have respect for anybody who had to make that decision, whatever it turned out to be.

Because we were so meticulous about staying safe and following all of the guidelines, playing basketball, especially at the Division I level, did not seem as daunting or massive as we originally thought. There were struggles throughout the season, but we competed every game, and at the end of the day, it was basketball, something simple and second nature to us all. As we played in the middle of a pandemic, the Big West didn’t seem so big.