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UC Davis offers to pay students $75 to stay put for spring break

Kearney Hall on the campus of UC Davis
UC Davis is offering to give students $75 to stay on campus during the upcoming spring break. Above, Kearney Hall on the campus.
(Phil Willon / Los Angeles Times)

No caravans of college students in Miami or beach parties in Malibu during a pandemic, please.

UC Davis is offering a sure-fire incentive to keep students from traveling during spring break and potentially spreading the coronavirus: money.

Students who agree to stay on campus during the break can receive $75 gift cards to spend locally, according to the university’s spring break grant program announcement last week.

“The idea behind this was to provide a positive incentive for students to follow public health guidance,” said Sheri Atkinson, associate vice chancellor for student affairs. “Based on how our students have done so far, we’re pretty confident that this group is conscientious and will do what they signed up to do.”

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About 50% of the student body is living either on campus or in the Davis area, she said. To receive the gift cards, students must apply for the grant by giving a basic description of their spring break plans. They must pledge to stay in town for their weeklong spring break, beginning March 22, and complete a COVID-19 test.

“As per state guidance, all nonessential travel should be avoided, and staying local is a good way to do your part in slowing the spread of COVID-19,” the Facebook announcement for the program read.

Atkinson said the university initially planned to give 750 grants, but because of an outpouring of student interest, it upped the cap to 2,000. The anticipated $150,000 program will be paid through philanthropy and other university funds — not student fees or tuition, Atkinson said.

The late-winter storm could bring lightning, thunder and hail along with significant rain and snow to Los Angeles County.

A few students told Atkinson that they planned to leave town but, in part because of the program, decided to stick around for the break.

“I have the sense that it may have helped,” Atkinson said. “Even if it was the students who were just already planning to stay, it’s still trying to incentivize them to engage in healthy COVID practices.

“There’s a lot of COVID fatigue right now.”

The spring break grant program is part of a broader university initiative called “Healthy Davis Together,” which encourages students to wear a mask, keep a distance, wash hands and get tested regularly.

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UC Davis was one of the first college campuses in California to have students quarantined for the coronavirus a year ago.

Recently, the weekly average COVID-19 positivity rate in the Davis area has hovered around 0.3%, down from a high of nearly 5% at the beginning of January. Out of more than 9,500 tests in the last week, 27 of them were positive, according to the Healthy Davis Together website.

Atkinson acknowledged that $75 gift cards may not live up to students’ usual spring break plans.

Still, she said: “Hey, if it kept one student to stay, that’s great.”


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