As spring break approaches for California’s universities, campus leaders across the state are encouraging students and even offering them incentives to stay local to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

For most campuses across the University of California and California State University, spring break is scheduled for either the week beginning March 22 or the following week. Some campuses are planning local events, like outdoor hikes and scavenger hunts, to encourage students to stay local and keep them from taking trips to places like Miami or Cancún. If students in California and elsewhere across the country don’t heed that advice, public health officials warn it could lead to another spike in COVID-19 cases.

“Each new case of COVID-19 represents the possibility of more lives lost and one more opportunity for the virus to mutate, possibly rendering current vaccination efforts less effective and prolonging the return to normal,” UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ said in a message to the campus community on Tuesday. “Please, do your part to slow the spread and to protect one another, especially when considering spring break plans.”

Campuses have also offered students gift cards or cash awards as incentives to not travel for spring break. UC Santa Cruz will give Grubhub gift cards to any student who participates in an on-campus scavenger hunt. Grubhub is a food delivery app.

UC Davis made national headlines when it announced it would give students $75 gift cards if they planned to stay on campus or in the Davis area. The gift cards can be spent at one of four local businesses.

In a message to the campus community, Chancellor Gary May said the response from students was so “overwhelming” that the campus has increased the giveaway from 500 to 2,000. The money to fund the gift cards came from federal and state COVID-19 relief dollars, he said.

“News of this incentive has spread across the country, in newspaper and TV coverage, showcasing another example of our efforts to safeguard the community’s health,” May said.

Spring break fears

Since last week, photos have emerged of students from other universities across the country descending on Florida and gathering in large groups. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control, pointed to a spike in travel in recent weeks with “footage of people enjoying spring break festivities, maskless.”

“I’m pleading with you, for the sake of our nation’s health,” Walensky told reporters. “These should be warning signs for all of us. Cases climbed last spring. They climbed again in the summer. They will climb now if we stop taking precautions.”

In California, police this past weekend broke up a party of hundreds of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo students, many of them not wearing masks. Those students were not on spring break, but were instead celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, which is observed on March 17.

Cal Poly administrators have also discouraged students from gathering during spring break next week. Students have also been encouraged to instead take part in different “Staycation” activities available in the San Luis Obispo area, such as biking at a nearby trail or exploring the Leaning Pine Arboretum.

Officials at Chico State, which had to close its dorms last fall after a coronavirus outbreak among students, have also advised students not to travel over spring break, which is this week for that campus.

‘Staying locally may be the safest option’

“Please think twice about whether any travel, regardless of destination, is worth the risk. Staying locally may be the safest option, for you and those you care about,” Chico State President Gayle Hutchinson said in a message to the campus.

San Diego State, which had its own COVID-19 outbreak in the fall, is one of the few campuses that has canceled spring break altogether this year. Instead, the university has scheduled four “rest and recovery” days during March and April, according to the Daily Aztec.

At UC San Diego, which is currently housing more students than any other public university in California, there is a range of activities available to students over the next two weeks as part of the university’s “Stay Safer, Stay Put” spring break campaign. There will be opportunities for students to go canoeing, visit the nearby Birch Aquarium or even play a lawn game in an on-campus cornhole tournament.

At UC Santa Cruz, most students have already indicated they will stay local over next week’s spring break, according to that campus, which surveyed on-campus students about their spring break plans. The university’s Colleges, Housing, and Educational Services (CHES) department has planned a range of safe events for those students. Students will be able to go kayaking in Monterey Bay or participate in on-campus scavenger hunts, among other activities.

“On campus with us is the best place you can be right now, and we want to make the experience enjoyable for our students,” Jim Grove, chief of staff of the CHES department, said in a statement.

* Story originally published by EdSource.