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237 University of San Diego students and staff test positive for coronavirus in two weeks

One out of 10 on-campus students has tested positive for the virus. School says housing and classroom spread is unlikely, blame students returning from out of town
Credit: USD Toreros

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — Over the last two weeks, University of San Diego has reported more cases of coronavirus than any other university in San Diego County for the same reporting period.

233 total student cases were reported since January 24, one day before the semester started, two cases were among remote faculty and two others were among on-campus staff.

103 of the cases were from students living in residential housing. Around 1,080 students are living on campus for the spring semester.

This means approximately one out of 10 students living on-campus at the roman-catholic university has tested positive for the virus since moving in a little more than two weeks ago. 

Lissette Martinez, the senior director of media relations at USD, responded via email to News 8 explaining the depth of the case spike. She wrote that while the university is concerned for students who contract the virus, the spike in cases wasn’t unexpected.

“We do have more students on campus for the spring semester than in the fall and the country is also dealing with various new COVID-19 strains, so the spike is larger than we experienced previously,” wrote Martinez.

Martinez pointed to a similar increase in cases at the start of last semester. While last semester started virtually in August, the university decided to move 630 students into on-campus housing between September 18 and 20 due to the ease in COVID-19 restrictions in San Diego County.

From August 16 to September 29, 87 total cases among students, faculty and staff, both on and off-campus tested positive for the virus. 

Other colleges in the area experienced much larger outbreaks during the fall semester. San Diego State University, for example, reported the most cases out of any other university in California. Point Loma Nazarene University experienced an outbreak of cases in its residential housing as well.

2021 is a different playing field. While other local colleges host more or fewer students, pound for pound, USD is reporting more cases of the virus. 

SDSU, once blamed for having a case rate so bad that it pushed San Diego County into a more restrictive tier, is now reporting just under three dozen total campus community cases. Its on-campus student population is around 1,700, fewer than approximately 2,600 who lived in residential housing last semester.

UC San Diego reported 58 on and off-campus student cases in the last two weeks. In fact, it’s reported fewer cases in the last 30 days than USD did in the last two weeks. UCSD’s 230 to USD’s 237.

UCSD did report an initial spike in cases at the beginning of the quarter, but now reports a COVID-19 testing positivity rate of below one percent.

UCSD also has an on-campus population more than eight times greater than USD.

Martinez wrote that the university believes it is unlikely the infected students are catching COVID from roommates. The Torero Blueprint, USD’s reopening campaign, points out that most students live in their own unit with a private bathroom.

The email also stated that due to the low number of in-person classes and activity on the Torero campus, it is unlikely coronavirus spread occurred in the classroom.

“We have a robust health and safety protocol for those students, faculty and staff visiting campus which includes, filling out a health survey prior to arriving on campus, checking-in at a temperature screening station before entering any building and mandatory face coverings while on our campus, including in the classroom,” wrote Martinez.

Martinez wrote that the lack of COVID-19 guideline adherence among students, prior to moving to campus, is partly to blame for the growing number of cases.

“Students are returning from break, traveling into San Diego and unfortunately some students are reporting that they did not follow the COVID-19 mitigation strategies, specifically meeting up with friends and not wearing a face covering,” Martinez wrote.

San Diego County worked with local universities for the fall semester to mitigate the transmission of COVID-19 and perform contact tracing among campus communities. They even temporarily announced SDSU cases at their weekly coronavirus media briefings.

A county spokesperson wrote via email that communications with local universities are ongoing.

Martinez wrote that notices have been sent to campus community members to adhere to COVID-9 health guidelines.

Reminders about the student code of conduct, possible consequences if they disobey health order and letters addressed to parents asking them to speak with their children about the importance of following health order have all been issued due to the spike in cases, Martinez wrote.

“And while the numbers are not what we would like them to be, we do have a plan in place to ensure those who are living on campus and test positive for COVID-19 are safe and do not continue to spread the virus.”

Students who test positive for the virus are moved out of their private room into one of two on-campus quarantine buildings. Martinez wrote these students are delivered meals and mail so they don’t have to leave the space.

The university says an off-campus structure is available for quarantine housing in the event more students get sick.

According to Martinez, none of the cases reported in the last two weeks have led to hospitalizations.

Approximately 500 eligible USD faculty, staff and students also received their COVD-19 vaccine through the campus health center. Students were also encouraged to sign up for California's contact-tracing software known as CA Notify.