vials for COVID-19 screening

COVID-19 Testing

UC Davis provides free COVID-19 test kits to students and employees on the Davis campus

Though no longer mandatory, COVID-19 testing can help you manage risks related to COVID-19 exposure, travel, crowded events or socializing with high-risk individuals. If you have symptoms, please stay home, use an at-home antigen test and contact your doctor or Student Health.

Free antigen test kits are available for students and employees to pick up on campus, for individual use through the winter quarter. Test kits are also available in bulk for departmental purchase, visit the Guidance for Hosting an Event at UC Davis page for details.  

Campus testing updates

To help mitigate spread of COVID-19 during holiday travel, UC Davis has issued testing guidance for employees and students for during the break and after returning to the Davis area.

Antigen test kits are now available for pick-up. See the guidance page for antigen testing details.

As announced in October, the university has closed its COVID-19 asymptomatic saliva testing. Dec. 14 was the last day of saliva testing on campus.

The university will continue to provide antigen test kits for students and employees during the winter quarter. If you are looking for more PCR testing options after Dec. 15, you can also visit other testing sites in Yolo County.


When should I get tested? 

If you don’t have symptoms, we recommend you continue to get tested on a routine basis. The CDC and California Department of Public Health recommend that you get tested in scenarios such as:

  • Exposure: If you’ve been exposed or suspect you’ve been exposed to COVID-19, get tested within 5 days of exposure. See more guidance for close contacts.
  • Gatherings: Get tested before gathering with a group of people, particularly if they may be at higher risk. Get tested again 3-5 days after the gathering, for potential exposure.
  • Events: Get tested before participating in a high-risk event and 3-5 days after.
  • Travel: Get tested before you travel and 3-5 days after. 


What if I have symptoms?

If you have COVID-19 symptoms, students can make an appointment for symptomatic testing in Health-e-Messaging or contact Student Health and Counseling Services for care (or your medical provider or Occupational Health if you are a campus employee). Consider getting tested immediately with an at-home antigen test. If your antigen test result is negative, take another antigen test in 24-48 hours, as early cases can be missed. 

Find out where to pick up a testing kit on campus. You can also request free at-home tests delivered through the mail to keep available for convenient testing or to use when you develop symptoms. If you are looking for more testing options, visit other testing sites in Yolo county or find more testing options in California.



Saliva testing on campus ended Dec. 14.

Who is eligible for testing on campus? 

Campus testing is managed via the Health-e-Messaging portal. Matriculated students and employees who have a UCPath identification number can log in to this system.

If you are unsure whether or not you might be eligible for campus COVID-19 testing, try logging into Health-e-Messaging. If you cannot login Health-e-Messaging, but believe you should have access, please contact

  • Find more details about who is eligible
  • Here are some details about which campus affiliates are eligible for testing through Health-e-Messaging:

    > Students who were enrolled in the spring and are also enrolled in the fall may get tested during the summer.

    > Students who graduated in the spring may continue to get tested during the summer.

    > Redwood Seed Learners are eligible for testing.

    > Students in the STEP program are eligible for testing.

    > Faculty members who have a UCPath identification number are eligible for testing.

    > Emeriti on recall status who have a UCPath identification number are eligible for testing.

    > Staff members who have a UCPath identification number are eligible for testing.

    If you are unsure whether or not you might be eligible for campus COVID-19 testing, try logging into Health-e-Messaging. If you cannot login Health-e-Messaging, but believe you should have access, please contact

    If you are looking for more testing options, you can request free at-home tests through the mail, visit other testing sites in Yolo county or find more testing options in California.


How the COVID-19 testing process works

To find out whether they have COVID-19, testing participants make an appointment and then provide a saliva sample at a COVID-19 testing kiosk on campus. If you have problems logging in or making an appointment, contact

  • What to know before you go...
  • > Do not come to the COVID-19 testing kiosk if you have symptoms.
    > Face coverings are required at the testing kiosk.
    > You must bring your appointment QR code with you (on your phone or printed out).
    > Be prepared to show your photo ID after you arrive at the testing kiosk.
    > In the 30 minutes before your test, do not eat, drink, chew gum, smoke or brush your teeth.
    > Please stay well hydrated and drink plenty of fluids 1 hour before your appointment.
  • When you're at the kiosk...
  • You will be asked to show your appointment QR code and your photo ID.
    You are required to wear a mask at the facility and during your appointment.

    You will be asked to sanitize your hands.

    You will be given a vial with a barcode and then a straw and pipette bulb with purified water.

    Then you’ll follow the seven-step process shown as seen in this video. If you're not familiar with the process, an attendant will walk you through it:

    1- Once asked, remove the cap from the vial and place it in the provided tray. Don’t lose the cap. 
    2- Tip the water from the pipette bulb into your mouth and gently swirl it around (do not gargle).
    3- Place the straw in the vial, but be careful not to push the straw so far that it creates a seal. 
    4- Place your lips on the straw and push saliva through the straw into the vial. 
    5- After filling the vial a little more than halfway, remove the straw and place it in the tray. 
    6- Securely place the cap back on the vial and place the vial into the container. 
    7- The attendant will take your sample. Sanitize your hands and exit.

  • What happens to my saliva sample in the lab?
  • Saliva samples from UC Davis COVID-19 testing are processed at the UC Davis Genome Center. The Genome Center uses a laboratory developed test that depends on a high throughput, real time, quantitative polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR) protocol, run on machines repurposed from the agricultural genetics industry. Watch this video about how testing works in the lab or browse our Technical FAQs for more details.


When will I get my COVID-19 test results

IMPORTANT: Please review your test results in Health-e-Messaging as soon as you receive notification by email that your results are in.

Delayed test results: Most results are returned within 48 hours. If you have not received your test result after 48 hours, please log back into the Health-e-Messaging Portal and check “Lab Results.” A small number of results may take longer to be reported to the testing participant due to technical considerations. Please note a delay does not indicate a positive or negative result.

Student help with testing: If you do not find answers on this webpage or cannot find your test results, registered students can call (530) 752-6125 for more information.

Employee help with testing: If you have additional questions about testing or your test results, employees (who receive paychecks through UCPath) can email for assistance.


What happens if I test positive for COVID-19

When a campus test comes back positive, you will receive a notification with isolation instructions and information on how to seek care and identify and inform close contacts. While you will not be contacted by phone by a member of the contact tracing team, please visit the contact tracing webpage for more information on this process. 

UC Davis has set aside quarantine and isolation facilities for students to use if necessary, at the directive of Student Health and Counseling Services.

Aggregated results from campus testing, including positivity rate, are shared publicly on the UC Davis COVID-19 Dashboard.

Employees and students who receive a positive COVID-19 test result from off-campus testing are required to report their diagnosis to UC Davis. Find out how to report COVID-19 if you test positive.

Frequently asked questions

Here are some FAQs about UC Davis COVID-19 testing that we have received from employees and students. We will add more questions and answers over time. You may also watch our video demonstrating the testing process.


FAQs about COVID-19 testing on campus

  • UPDATED: Who is able to get tested for COVID-19 on campus?
  • All registered UC Davis students and all Davis campus employees are eligible for asymptomatic testing at the new Student Health and Counseling Services testing site by making an appointment through the Health-e-Messaging system.

    To access Health-e-Messaging, employees must have UCPath identification numbers. This means emeritus faculty members on recall status may be eligible because they have UCPath ID numbers — but not temporary affiliates, who usually do not.

    Over the summer, students who have graduated in the spring quarter will continue to have access to Health-e-Messaging, as will students who registered for courses in both spring and fall quarters. (June 24, 2022)
  • If I’ve tested positive for COVID-19 within the last 90 days, can I get tested on campus?

  • No, you should not use a PCR test if you were positive for COVID-19 within the last 90 days. 

  • Are UC Davis Health employees eligible to get tested on the Davis campus?
  • Yes, employees and students at UC Davis Health are eligible to get tested at the Davis campus testing kiosk. (Updated Sept. 21, 2022)
  • What if I can’t log into the Health e-Messaging Portal?
  • Only currently registered students and UC Davis employees who have UCPath identification numbers should be able to log into the Health e-Messaging Portal. If you are able to login, but cannot schedule an appointment, then please contact so Student Health staff members can troubleshoot your account. Student Health staff members are working to fix any login issues, and they appreciate your help in prioritizing which accounts need to be updated.
  • UPDATED: As an employee, can I get tested during work hours?
  • Though COVID-19 testing is no longer mandatory, it is recommended — and employees may get tested during work hours. Employees will continue to be afforded a reasonable amount of paid release time to get tested during regular working hours. Please work with your supervisor in advance of making a testing appointment to determine an appropriate time to get tested. (June 28, 2022)
  • Do students or employees need insurance to take this test?
  • This test is free for all eligible students and employees. No insurance needed.
  • I’m concerned about getting exposed to the virus during the testing process. How is this process designed to keep me safe?
  • Having an appointment helps keep the testing process moving quickly. The whole process usually takes 15 minutes or less.

    Students with symptoms can get COVID-19 testing at Student Health after a telehealth appointment with a Student Health provider. Testing participants must confirm they do not have symptoms.

    While waiting, you are required to maintain physical distancing and wear a face covering. Inside the ARC testing kiosk area, we are requiring that participants maintain extra physical distancing of 10 feet while they are indoors. You must sanitize your hands before and after the sample process.

    The testing kiosk workers also wear gloves and sanitize their hands often when handling any of the testing materials, including the pipette bulb and straw. All the equipment used to cut and fill the bulbs/straws are new or sanitized each day, and the water is from sealed water bottles used only for that purpose. Workers all wear gloves in the spit station area and sanitize their station and hands after every client. (Updated June 24, 2022)
  • UPDATED: Can I use this test to meet travel requirements?
  • Campus testing is an RT-qPCR test used to detect whether someone is currently infected with the coronavirus, even though they do not have symptoms. Samples are processed in a CLIA-certified lab on campus, and results are available via the Student Health e-Messaging portal. Travelers are responsible for determining whether this test meets their needs regarding flight or entry requirements. You may also check other testing sites in Yolo County. Each individual should still always check to make sure state and country mandates are met with this or any test. For current travel information for UC Davis students and employees, visit the Global Affairs website's Winter Travel Advisory page, especially for international travel. (Updated Nov. 28, 2022)
  • What if I have a question about testing that is not already answered?
  • If you cannot find an answer to your question about testing on the Campus Ready website:

    Student help with testing: If you do not find answers on this webpage or cannot find your test results, students can call (530) 752-6125 for more information.

    Employee help with testing: If you have additional questions about testing or your test results, employees can email for assistance.

Technical FAQs about the UC Davis rapid saliva test

The saliva test used at UC Davis is a rapid test that detects whether someone is currently infected with the coronavirus. This is a laboratory developed test that uses a high throughput, real time, quantitative polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR) protocol run on machines repurposed from the agricultural genetics industry. The saliva samples are processed at the UC Davis Genome Center, which is a CLIA-certified extension of the UC Davis Student Health and Counseling Services CLIA license. Read more about what's behind the UC Davis COVID-19 saliva testing process.

  • How does this test work? 
  • This protocol tests for the presence of two viral genes, N1 and N2, in a saliva sample to identify if someone is acutely infected with COVID-19. The test uses a protocol adapted from CDC-designed assays specific to the SARS-CoV-2 virus in order to detect the virus in saliva samples. SARS-CoV-2 RNA is generally detectable in saliva specimens during the acute phase of infection. Detection of the viral genes leads to a positive result. The RT-qPCR assays used in the saliva test have been adapted from the “CDC 2019-Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) Real-Time RT-PCR Diagnostic Panel” document effective March 30, 2020. (Updated Nov. 7, 2022)
  • How accurate is it? What about false positives or false negatives? How sensitive and specific is this test?
  • All tests have a trade-off between the likelihood of false negatives and the likelihood of false positives, which is measured by a test’s sensitivity and specificity.

    Sensitivity can be considered in two ways. The limit of detection can be determined by analyzing contrived samples containing known amounts of deactivated virus added in. This test’s lower limit of detection was determined to be 15 copies per microliter (µL) of saliva.  This represents a low level of virus that is comparable to other tests authorized by the FDA for emergency use. Such low levels have been shown to be rarely infectious in cell culture studies. 

    The second way to measure sensitivity is to compare it to clinical samples that have been declared positive or negative by an independent lab. On this basis, this test’s sensitivity is currently calculated at 84–88%, which is considered adequately sensitive. This means the test will positively identify 84–88% of those who are actually infected with COVID-19. It will, however, reliably detect people with high viral counts, who are the most likely to be infectious. 

    Another way of looking at this test’s sensitivity is that about 12–16% of people who are actually infected will receive a “false negative” result from this test because they have low levels of virus. This could be because they are in the short period during early stages of infection when the viral load is just beginning to increase or in the longer period of recovery after the infectious period.

    The test uses the same PCR primers as previously validated for numerous FDA approved tests, and it is therefore considered highly specific for SARS-CoV-2. Consequently, a positive result is therefore diagnostic of COVID-19. False positives are highly unlikely. 

  • Is this test FDA approved? 
  • No, this test is not currently authorized by the Food and Drug Administration. This is a laboratory-developed test. The FDA is not currently required to review laboratory-developed tests and until recently has declined to review new requests for emergency use authorizations (EUAs). There is signage to this effect at the testing kiosk. The guidance on EUAs has recently changed and therefore we will be submitting an EUA to the FDA.
  • How was this test validated?
  • To validate the test, the campus testing protocol was compared to a validated saliva-based test from Arizona State University. ASU provided 50 positive and 50 negative samples; the FDA recommends at least 30 of each. The UC Davis test achieved high concordance up to the limit of detection. The test’s limit of detection was determined by testing contrived samples containing known amounts of deactivated virus. The lab director for Student Health and Counseling Services approved the validation of this UC Davis rapid saliva test based on the validation data as recommended by FDA.
  • What genes does the test target? What about the endogenous control?
  • The test targets the N1 and N2 gene of SARS-CoV-2 using primers approved by the FDA. Human RNaseP is used as the endogenous control as approved by FDA.  
  • What is the cycle threshold for this testing process?
  • The cycle threshold (Ct) values will vary by test and machine. The Ct value for our limit of detection as defined by the FDA is 32. However, the test can detect the virus at higher Ct values (lower viral loads). The cut-off for calling a positive is the FDA recommended value of <40. However, we rarely obtain Ct values greater than 35.
  • Are samples genotyped and sequenced?
  • All samples that test positive for SARS-CoV-2 are now genotyped to monitor for currently known variants of concern using assays for at least seven diagnostic, single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). Most positive samples are also later sequenced to confirm results and reveal the presence of any novel changes to the viral genome. Data on COVID-19 variants are available on the Health Davis Together website. (Updated July 16, 2021)

  • Are samples batch tested?
  • Samples are tested in batches of up to 760 as individual samples. Samples are not pooled. The machine is sufficiently high throughput that pooling is not necessary or desirable. Pooling would increase the complexity of the workflow and slow the return of results by at least a day.
  • UPDATED: I’m concerned about privacy. Who will have access to our results?
  • The Genome Center receives each saliva sample in a bar-coded tube with a handwritten date of birth. The lab reports a result for that barcode to the Student Health and Counseling Services secure database. The testing lab does not have access to the results except in an anonymous form. The handwritten date of birth serves as a backup confirmation of identity in case there are questions about a positive result.

    From the database, employees from Student Health and from Occupational Health — all of whom are trained to maintain HIPAA compliance — connect the result to the individual tested.

    If you test positive, you will be notified by the Health-e-Messaging system. You may also be contacted by the campus contact tracing team. The confidentiality of individuals with positive results will be protected, and their name and COVID-19 status will not be shared with close contacts.

    Positive test results are also reported to the Yolo County Public Health Department, in accordance with CDC guidance, state and county requirements and as mandated by law. (Updated June 24, 2022)

  • UPDATED: What will happen to my saliva sample? Are the samples being used for research?
  • All saliva samples are stored in a cold room for at least a few days in case a sample needs to be rerun.
    All positive samples are then stored frozen in a freezer, for use in quality control and protocol improvement. A few negative samples will be kept as controls.

    All positive samples are also genotyped to monitor for known SARS-CoV-2 variants, and some are also sequenced to confirm results and reveal the presence of any novel changes to the viral genome. Data on COVID-19 variants are available on the Health Davis Together website.
    Currently the saliva samples are not being used for research. If in the future the Genomics Lab team is interested in pursuing research using saliva samples from this testing process, then they will guided by the Institutional Review Board process, and a consent form for optional research will be made available for testing participants to decide if they want to consent to participating in the research or not. (Updated Sept. 9, 2021)

Testing rollout: From student move-in, to Davis community

Students living on campus with Student Housing and Dining Services were first required to get tested for COVID-19 before moving into their residences in September 2020. Student residents continued to be tested throughout the school year on at least a weekly basis.

During the initial pilot phase, the saliva screening process was backed up with a more traditional, certified testing process using nasal swabs. As part of the pilot phase, UC Davis students residing at The Green and in Sorority and Fraternity residences were also eligible to begin testing, as were student firefighters and EMTs living on campus. First responder and frontline health employees on the UC Davis campus were also invited to participate in testing during the pilot phase. After the saliva test was validated, additional groups of students and employees were invited to begin participating in the testing program (see the scope of the COVID-19 testing and screening program for more details).

COVID-19 testing is available for all UC Davis students and employees. The UC Davis COVID-19 Dashboard provides weekly updates on the number of tests and positive results.

Additional saliva-based testing kiosks were also opened as part of the Healthy Davis Together initiative to serve the needs of residents and workers in the city of Davis and other Yolo County communities. The Genome Center successfully processed more than 2.1 million saliva tests and the City of Davis and UC Davis were honored with an award from the International Town Gown Association for their partnership, before Healthy Davis Together was scheduled to close in June 2022.


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