8/24: Community Health Advisory – COVID-19 Cases in Off Campus Residences


To: USC Students

From: Sarah Van Orman, MD, MMM, FACHA, Chief Health Officer for USC Student Health, Division Chief for College Health, Keck School of Medicine of USC

cc: USC Faculty and Staff

Date: August 24, 2020

Subject: Community Health Advisory: Covid-19 Cases in Off Campus Residences

USC Student Health has received an alarming increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in  students in the University Park Campus community as the first week of the fall semester has concluded. In the past seven days:

  • 14 cases have been identified through asymptomatic population testing (Pop Testing).
  • 29 cases have been identified through USC Student Health contact tracing and testing of symptomatic and exposed individuals.
  • All cases are related to students in off-campus living environments (suite mates and housemates). 
  • More than 100 students are now in a 14-day quarantine due to exposures. 

This increase comes despite the continued State and County health guidance that significantly restricts in-person instruction and on-campus activities for universities located in counties that are on the state’s COVID-19 monitoring list, including Los Angeles County. It appears highly unlikely current conditions will significantly change in the weeks ahead. The County may grant a small number of exceptions for specific classes and other activities that cannot be delivered in a virtual setting; however, those decisions have not yet been made. Therefore, we continue to strongly discourage students from returning to the campus area until further notice. We will provide regular updates on our plans for the remainder of the fall semester, and as we head toward the start of the spring semester.

For students who remain on or near campus in shared living arrangements, we strongly advise you to act with caution and strictly follow all guidelines for physical distancing (6 ft.), avoiding gatherings with other outside your home, wearing face coverings around others to protect against respiratory droplets, and proceed with high adherence to hand hygiene and frequent surface contact cleaning.

It is strongly recommended that students in the vicinity of USC, especially those living with housemates or suite mates, should test weekly through the Pop Testing program. All students on USC Housing lists will receive a reminder email to this effect.

Personally identifiable information is kept as private patient information by our contact tracing team.

Los Angeles is at a critical juncture in public health. 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. 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. 

We need every student’s support of these goals in order to succeed. All USC students, both near the campuses and around the globe, are counting on you to make the right decisions, right now.

We have received questions from students about the extent usual activities can resume. At this time, every surface, every interaction where you share close contact or remove your face covering, can pose a risk to yourself and your friends. Even simple board games involving touching shared objects can become a super-spreader event.

Activities with multiple people in the same space, touching objects (card games, board games, especially in close proximity, and where drinking and eating is taking place) has a high risk of being a spreading event. If one person at the gathering has COVID-19, each participant is exposed and may develop infection and spread to others.

Here are some things to consider about games involving contact of objects, drinks, and COVID-19:

  • 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. 

The safest way to live with other housemates is to wear a face covering, wash your hands, keep a safe distance, avoid sharing respiratory droplets (food, drink, utensils), and clean common surfaces frequently (doorknobs, light switches, sinks). Close off common areas, and do 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.

We know the pandemic has been difficult for everyone to endure, and there is a strong urge to return to life as we knew it. By actively depriving COVID-19 of the opportunity to spread, we can make a faster return to the campus life we all want to have again.

Stay safe and stay well.