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San Diego colleges and coronavirus: September 11, 2020

Summarizing the growing outbreaks and increasing cases among universities throughout San Diego County. SDSU outbreaks, CSU San Marcos logs first semester cases
Credit: Photo by Anne Wernikoff
Isael Corona, a math major at UC Berkeley, looks out the window from his student apartment near campus where he lives with a roommate on Sept. 3, 2020. Corona says he misses being with his friends but wanted to be back on campus. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

SAN DIEGO — With more than 10,000 students moving to on-campus housing throughout San Diego's major public colleges, there is growing concern over how these universities are working to keep students safe amid a global pandemic that's claimed the lives of nearly 200,000 Americans.

San Diego State, UC San Diego and CSU San Marcos have all documented reopening plans to allow students to return to campus for a small amount of in-person classes. They also have an ongoing log of active cases of coronavirus among students, faculty and staff members to accompany their coronavirus protocol information for residents. 

Some, like SDSU, temporarily walked back on in-person classes amid increased cases. SDSU is currently experiencing numerous outbreaks of the virus in the surrounding College Area, and at the beginning of September, instituted a four-week pause on all in-person instruction.

Meantime CSUSM is documenting its first notable increase of the virus since the semester started, and UCSD is preparing for 7,500 students to move into residential housing next week. 

Ongoing communication to surrounding communities is vital to understanding how colleges locally, and around the nation, are handling coronavirus on their campuses. All three major public colleges in the area updated their case numbers this week. 

Let's get into it:

San Diego State pushes past 500 student cases, one student in hospital:

On Thursday afternoon, SDSU updated its case protocol page to say there were 513 confirmed/probable cases of coronavirus among their student population.

Specifically, this is four probable cases and 509 confirmed cases since the start of the semester on August 24.

This is an increase of 69 probable/confirmed cases of the virus in just one day.

SDSU students living on campus are technically under a stay-at-home order, confined to their dorms, until the morning of Sept. 14.

University officials have frequently joined San Diego County health officials for biweekly press conferences to discuss the virus situation on its campus.

On Wednesday, Dr. Eric McDonald, medical director of the county’s epidemiology department, said the situation of the virus is coming under control at SDSU.

"I do feel like we are bending the curve at San Diego State... we have a number of cases under investigation," said McDonald. 

McDonald was referring to the ongoing efforts by the university to control students who have blatantly violated health orders throughout the College Area for the first two weekends of the semester, according to reporting by News 8.

Dr. J Luke Wood, vice president of student affairs and campus diversity, highlighted work done by students to quarantine, and private security for maintaining control of off-campus gatherings.

According to Dr. Wood, more than 500 citations have been issued to community members who violate the health code. Some are fraternity and sorority organizations while others are on an individual basis. 

Many, according to Dr. Wood, are still under investigation. University officials would not immediately comment on whether any of the citations issued have resulted in suspension or expulsion.

At a press conference, a reporter asked about the condition of those infected students. Repeatedly, health officials have said students mostly have symptoms but remain healthy.

However, on Wednesday, health officials said one student was currently in the hospital due to illness related to coronavirus.

It's not known yet if the student lived on or off-campus or if that student is still currently hospitalized going into the weekend.

CSU San Marcos reports six students with coronavirus, one employee tests positive:

According to CSU San Marcos' case protocol page, there were seven active cases of coronavirus among the CSU's community as of Thursday afternoon.

This was an increase of four according to an initial update on Wednesday, and an increase from an original number of one the previous week.

Margaret Chantung from CSUSM Media Relations said the university was aware of the cases and has communicated to those who may have been affected.

An email from Chantung stated, in part:

"All active cases are in isolation. We have communicated with anyone on campus or in student housing who may have been exposed, all of whom are now quarantining."

Two-hundred-and-fifty students currently live on-campus this semester at CSUSM. The email said that all of the students involved have virtual classes this semester.

The timeline for the six positive cases comes within a span of five days. 

According to Brian Hiro from CSUSM Media Relations, one positive result was received on Sept. 4 at a private medical center. Hiro said it was reported the same day the student got the results.

The other five cases and one employee case received their positive results between Sept. 8 and 9, and all cases were reported directly to the university, according to Hiro.

"We are working directly with the County on case coordination and contact tracing for all of these cases," Hiro said in an email to News 8.

UC San Diego expects 7,500 on-campus students next week, 48 students already tested positive:

UC San Diego revised its case protocol and testing webpage last month to reflect students and faculty who test positive for the virus more than once.

Since students left spring quarter earlier this year, 48 students have tested positive for the virus as well as 26 campus employees and 172 employees from UC San Diego Health.

From the week of Aug. 30 to Sept. 5, the UC school administered 1,264 tests. Two students, two employees and two health employees tested positive.

Anticipating 7,500 students moving to its campus, based on its repopulation plan, UC San Diego is planning on having 12% of its classes offered in-person or a hybrid format. 

The repopulation plan adds that students can choose to attend in-person classes and live on campus, while professors retain the choice to teach remotely if they chose to do so.

The housing situation on campus is being revamped to provide advanced sanitization efforts and more social distancing.

Mandatory testing will be given to every student upon move-in starting Sept. 19.

In response to parties seen in and around the College Area by SDSU, UCSD has drafted an Interim Student Code of Conduct that will address student behaviors negatively impacting the health of the university community.

Erika Johnson from UC San Diego Media Relations sent a statement over email to News 8 to elaborate on disciplinary action toward students who disregard health order.

"Like our sister campuses across the country, our draft interim Student Code of Conduct includes probation, suspension and expulsion for flagrant disregard for community health," Johnson stated in an email.

Much like the private security officers patrolling the College Area in SDSU, Johnson added in the email that a full-time "professional team member" from the Office of Student Conduct would be looking into neighborhood concerns regarding parties.

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