SAN DIEGO — San Diego State University and San Diego County announced Wednesday that all university classes will be online for the next four weeks and all athletics are paused for two weeks. The move came in response to 64 confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases among SDSU students since the fall semester began last week.
The county said no students have been hospitalized, but many have shown symptoms. The university is unsure how many campus community members were quarantining as of Wednesday.
The school said while the majority of the cases included students in the off-campus community, 15 of the cases were confirmed to be out of SDSU's total 7,997 “on-campus” population.
An all-campus email on the cases read in part:
"Currently, all courses offered face-to-face will temporarily shift to virtual beginning Sept. 3 for just over a four-week period. We will assess the flexibility of returning to in-person instruction by Monday, Oct. 5. Students currently taking in-person classes should be in touch with their faculty members via email for direction."
Access to the SDSU Library will not be allowed during the "pause period," according to the school, but virtual library services will continue.
Dr. Eric McDonald, the county's director of epidemiology, said that the situation at SDSU can't be treated as one outbreak, but they are following a group of students living off-campus that are considered to be a community outbreak. He said a few cases are related to "off-campus, non-educational" activities.
"We have found some that are indeed linked," McDonald said about case connections at SDSU. "We expect the numbers to go up."
McDonald added that he anticipates triple-digit numbers.
"This is a serious situation," he said.
Dr. J. Luke Wood, SDSU's vice president for student affairs and campus diversity, said that students now have the choice to leave on-campus housing if they want to, but must quarantine if they decide to return to SDSU. More than 130 spaces are available to house students who need to quarantine if they start feeling sick or are exposed to the virus.
Wood said all 200 in-person classes -- mostly lab work classes -- would move online.
"Our students are welcome to stay," he said. "And students who wish to move out can do so. However, if at any point they return, they will be placed under quarantine for two weeks."
"We understand that there may be some frustration with this decision," said Wood, speaking of the move to virtual learning, "but we strongly believe this is the best decision for our campus community and local community."
SDSU junior Dylan Meisner supports the decision to go completely virtual.
"I think it's the right move," Meisner told News 8. "I think generally taking all of the precautions necessary and maybe even overshooting it would be a nice move because it is people's safety and people's health that's at risk."
Meisner said he sees, in person at least, most students generally following the standard COVID precautions.
"But on social media, they think no one else looks, and there's not much social distancing going on from what I see on social media," he added
McDonald stressed the critical need for students to change their behavior.
"You should not be attending or scheduling social gatherings that are not essential," he said. "And the essential job of a student is to participate fully in education."
"This is not a simple cold or flu," he added. "You don't want to get it and as importantly, you do not want to pass it on."
"This is not about you," Meisner added. "Staying safe is not about you. It is about the people who are actually at risk of dying if this thing gets to them and you pass it to them."
SDSU officials also said they have hired private security to patrol on and around campus to help in ensuring students are following the rules, like wearing facial coverings.
"They identify issues as they might be occurring and then we do immediate follow-up," Wood said.
Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs Andrea Dooley said that all 64 student cases were confirmed by a combination of on-campus testing and off-campus testing facilities.
All of the SDSU cases are counted in the county data.
There is a website for tracking the COVID-19 cases at SDSU. As of Wednesday, no testing data or illness onset statistics were listed on the website.