Data presented by San Diego State University shows the spread of coronavirus among its student population has slowed, and the university says its student caseload alone would no longer force San Diego County into the most restrictive tier of the state's monitoring list.
Earlier this week, as COVID-19 cases among on and off-campus SDSU students topped 600 since Aug. 24, Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten said San Diego County's case rate (daily new cases per 100,000 residents), one of the two metrics used to assign counties to tiers on the state's list, wouldn't qualify for the most restrictive tier if SDSU's cases were excluded.
The county pressed Governor Gavin Newsom to exclude the university's cases from the county's overall count in an effort to avoid demotion and was told that wasn't an option. Then on Thursday, the Board of Supervisors met in a closed session to discuss possible legal action against the state that could protect it from being moved to Tier 1, but no decisions were made.
While SDSU claims it has gotten its surge under control, that doesn't necessarily mean San Diego will avoid Tier 1 after all. The state assesses county data every Tuesday, and most expected San Diego County, one of only two southern California counties to qualify for Tier 2, to be bumped down a tier next week.
At last measure, San Diego County's Case rate was 7.9, well outside the 4 to 7 range of Tier 2. A case rate measured outside that range next Tuesday will signal two weeks of qualifying for Tier 1, which is the benchmark for demotion.
SDSU implemented mandatory testing for on-campus students on Tuesday. Since then, the university said it has tested more than 1,500 students, which is more than it expected, according to an email sent to students Friday.
Despite complaints from College Area neighbors who claimed the university wasn't doing enough to stop parties and unlawful gatherings in the surrounding community, SDSU said its students are "largely following guidance to protect themselves and others."
As of Friday, there have been 753 confirmed cases among students since Aug. 24, the start of the fall semester. SDSU paused in-person classes for at least four weeks on Sept. 3, and issued a two-week stay-at-home order for students living on campus. It also opened the doors for on-campus students to move without penalty.
A bulletin sent out by the university Friday shared this message:
"The case rate among adults who live in San Diego County and who are taking SDSU courses — mostly online and with limited to no campus contact — makes up the majority of the overall university-affiliated case count. While there are day to day fluctuations, cases off campus held an overall total of about 60 percent and 75 percent of all cases connected with SDSU.
This is important for every member of our community to understand."
All students living in campus housing -- with minor exceptions -- are required to participate in the so-called Surveillance Testing Plan.
Campus officials said they would also encourage students living off-campus to be tested as well.
"What we're doing is what it is within our jurisdiction to do," said SDSU vice-president for student affairs and campus diversity J. Luke Wood in regards to why off-campus students were not also required to be tested.
There are currently about 2,400 students living on campus, about one-third of what is normally the case. All on-campus students will be emailed about their assigned testing slots at either the Student Health Services Calpulli Center or at the Parma Payne Goodall Alumni Center. After the initial round of testing, students will be randomly selected for subsequent rounds of testing. Test results are expected within 48 hours.
Officials said that, if there is widespread participation in the testing, they would not resume the stay-at-home order for students that ended on Monday at 9 a.m., though they stressed the need to continue the widespread practices of handwashing, facial coverings, social distancing and avoiding social gatherings.
The tests are free -- and the school is also offering a proverbial carrot or two. Anyone who gets tested will get a $5 Starbucks gift card and be entered to win one of 10 $100 gift cards for the school bookstore.