USC reports ‘alarming’ COVID-19 outbreak at off-campus housing; over 100 students under quarantine

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The University of Southern California reported an “alarming increase” in the number of coronavirus cases among students in off-campus residences as the first week of the fall semester concluded, college officials said in a community health advisory on Monday.

The 43 new cases were reported over the previous seven days among students in the University Park Campus community. Fourteen cases were identified through asymptomatic population testing and 29 cases were identified through the USC Student Health contact tracing and testing of symptomatic and exposed individuals, health officials said in the advisory.

More than 100 USC students are now in a 14-day quarantine due to coronavirus exposure.

Sarah Van Orman, USC’s chief student health officer, said students who remain on or near campus in shared living arrangements are strongly advised to strictly follow physical distancing guidelines, continue to wear face coverings, avoid gatherings outside of their home and continue with diligent hand washing and frequent cleaning of common surface areas including doorknobs, light switches and sinks.

“While no students have been hospitalized to this point, we all need to work together to protect those in our community who may be at higher risk of severe disease and prevent serious health outcomes for all,” Van Orman said. “Your role in containing, or conversely, accelerating the rapid spread of COVID-19, can mean the difference between safely returning to a modified ‘new normal,’ or having a prolonged period of remote-only academic experience and closed facilities.” 

Van Orman added that students living in shared living arrangements should not permit visitors who do not live in the premises.

“The risks each housemate decides to take (not wearing face coverings, going to gatherings, traveling to other parts of the region and country) will also become the rest of the household’s risk; very quickly this becomes our entire community’s risk,” she said.

The community health advisory also highlighted the following precautions related to board and card games which could become a “super-spreader” event from multiple people touching the same objects in close proximity to each other.

  • Any passing of objects (dice, balls, cards, utensils) between individuals is an opportunity to transmit viral particles. 
  • Eating and drinking in a group is a particularly high-risk activity, as respiratory droplets are spread easily without mouth coverings. Being within 6 feet of someone for 15 minutes or longer, or having respiratory particles from another person in your face (being coughed on, for example) creates an opportunity for a close contact exposure. Loud talking and singing increases risk, as this also produces a forceful trajectory of droplets.
  • Alcohol will impair judgment of distance and contact, so it will be harder to remember who you’ve been in close contact with, if anyone in the gathering later tests positive for COVID-19. 

Van Orman said it is “strongly recommended” that students in the vicinity of USC, especially those living with housemates or suite mates, should test weekly for coronavirus through the Pop Testing program. 

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