San Diego State University paused all in-person instruction Wednesday as a San Diego County health official said there had been 64 confirmed or probable cases among SDSU students since the semester began last Monday.
"As of the close of business [Tuesday], we have collectively -- the county and San Diego State -- have identified 64 confirmed and probable cases among SDSU students since the semester began on Aug. 24," said Dr. Eric McDonald, the county's epidemiology and immunization services head. "This is a total number of cases, and we are actively investigating whether any groups of students may be considered an outbreak."
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While some of those cases were not linked to any other cases at San Diego State, McDonald said, "we have found some that are, indeed, linked."
McDonald stressed that what was happening at SDSU was not one large community outbreak. For example, one student flew in and later tested positive. Other persons connected to that person outside of the county also tested positive. That person had very limited contacts in the county and only exposed housemates, who are not under quarantine.
"On the other hand, we have identified one group of cases that do meet our definition of an outbreak," McDonald said. "These are students living in separate apartments in an apartment complex off-campus, and they are related to each other primarily through off-campus and non-educationally related activities. Those individuals are isolated and their contacts are quarantined."
McDonald said the situation was anticipated since people were gathering from all across the country to attend college, which is why testing sites were put in place. He also said the outbreak at SDSU is not over.
"We do expect more cases," McDonald said. "What's important is how we respond, and toward that end, we have been working daily with SDSU."
Close contacts of those who are infected are being tested, McDonald said, adding that two dozen students who are known close contacts were tested Tuesday and officials are back on campus Wednesday doing more testing.
“In terms of quarantine, we are still getting the count," said Andrea Dooley, associate vice-president for student affairs. "We have a little over 100 students who are quarantined at this time."
Efforts were under way on and off-campus, Luke said, to enforce state and county public health orders.
“We’ve engaged private security, which has been patrolling around our college area, during the week and weekends," Wood said. "What they do is identify issues that might be occurring and then we do immediate follow-up. So we have been taking this very seriously in terms of what we’re doing off-campus as well as what we’re doing on campus. Before this announcement, we’ve had on-campus security, as well as wellness ambassadors, who’ve been reminding people of PPE, social distancing and other campus policies.”
Not surprisingly, school officials said on Wednesday that all classes will be online for the next month due to the spike in cases, and athletics are also on hold for two weeks.
"The university has decided to move all classes online for four weeks and will reassess again in four weeks," Luke Wood, San Diego State's vice-president for student affairs and campus diversity, said at Wednesday's county briefing.
The announcements made Wednesday by the school don't impact students who live on campus, Wood said, though those who wish to can move out. As far as the students who tested positive are concerned, the school has more than 130 spaces available to house them in isolation, and the county could also make hotel rooms available to them if necessary.
Since the pandemic began, 10 staff members and vendors/contractors have also tested positive for COVID-19.
SDSU started the fall semester last week. Most classes were being held online, but about 200 of them require hands-on instruction and were being held in-person with safety measures in mind, the school said. Also last week, members of the Interfraternity Council at SDSU voted to hold all events virtually to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.
As more universities open, officials have struggled with the reality of social interactions on- and off-campus and are also grappling with contingency plans for those who contract the disease.
SDSU officials said Monday that three of the students who tested positive live on-campus at Zapotec, Villa Alvarado Apartments and South Campus Plaza North. One of those students was self-isolating off-campus, and the two others were in a "designated isolation room, per SDSU’s Office of Housing Administration COVID-19 protocol," where they were being supplied with hygiene supplies and having food delivered.
The university is applying "enhanced disinfection protocols" in areas the students visited, including the building in which they live and the bookstore.