CHANCELL-ING: A Tale of Togetherness

Woman holds tray of COVID-19 test samples.
Charlotte Acharya, a staff research associate, holds a tray of samples being tested for COVID-19 at the UC Davis Genome Center. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

Each passing day feels like another step toward normalcy in Davis.

More and more of us are vaccinated. We remain committed to following public health guidelines, including regular testing. The reward is that family and friends are reuniting. We are beginning to enjoy life outside of the pandemic bubble.

Chancell-ing logo with photo of Chancellor Gary S. May

One of the key reasons we’ve made it this far is because of Healthy Davis Together. This joint initiative between UC Davis and the city of Davis is keeping our community safe through widespread testing, contact tracing and vaccine clinics. Public health messaging has also been critical. Through Healthy Davis Together, our university and town are national role models for how higher education, innovation and civic leadership come together.

It takes a remarkable amount of teamwork to run a program like Healthy Davis Together — HDT for short. You need civic leaders who value communication and collaboration, especially in working with the university. You need a community that’s eager to participate and keeps public health at top of mind.

And you can’t have HDT without UC Davis.

University research plays a key role

Our university’s Genome Center has been at the heart of Healthy Davis Together since it launched in late 2020. The program’s rapid saliva-based testing is thanks to the innovation of plant sciences professor Richard Michelmore and his team at the UC Davis Genome Center.

They repurposed machines that are more commonly used in agricultural genetics. These array-tape machines can run thousands of tests a day, far more than machines built specifically for medical diagnostics. The Genome Center has since processed more than 400,000 saliva samples.

Our efforts to support students in alignment with public health guidelines was led by Dr. Cindy Schorzman, the medical director of Student Health and Counseling Services. She was on the front lines from the first days of the pandemic and remains a key leader in our ongoing work.

Dr. Brad Pollock and his team viewed the COVID-19 crisis through the scientific lens of a public health crisis. They studied missteps at other universities. They were adamant to not make those same mistakes.

Pollock is professor of epidemiology, chairman of the Department of Public Health Sciences and associate dean for public health sciences at the UC Davis School of Medicine. He told The New York Times: “What does it mean to keep your campus well when everyone else is getting sick around you? The university is part of the community.” This statement epitomizes how UC Davis thought about HDT from the beginning of COVID-19.

We are grateful to our students for their commitment to keeping themselves and the community safe. They demonstrated this by participating in “staycation” activities that were supported through HDT grants during Halloween and spring break.

HDT continues to focus on keeping the broader community top of mind. In recent weeks, HDT has expanded into other communities in Yolo County, including vaccination clinics in West Sacramento and Woodland.

It hasn’t been easy

Will all this said, there’s no doubt that it’s been a year of loss and sacrifices. Many of us have experienced personal trauma in a number of ways because of the pandemic. It’s been hard and recovery will take time.

However, the partnership between UC Davis and the city is stronger than ever. We’ve come together during the greatest public health crisis of our times, kept our community as safe as possible and communicated like never before.

As we look ahead to turning a big corner this month, please get vaccinated and continue to get tested regularly. We have much to celebrate in June, including graduation, Father’s Day, Pride Month and Juneteenth. We’ve come a long way together. We’re better prepared than ever to handle future challenges together.

Chancellor Gary S. May’s monthly column appears first in The Davis Enterprise and then in Dateline UC Davis.

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