An additional 120 students at San Diego State University have tested positive for the coronavirus, bringing the total number of infections since class opened to 184 and causing the school to crack down on students who hold parties and don't practice safety protocols.
Friday's announcement came on the same day that public health officials announced 453 new COVID-19 cases across San Diego County, up from 325 the previous day. Both district and SDSU officials have urged people to be careful over the hot Labor Day weekend as cases tend to increase after the holidays.
School officials say more than 400 SDSU students have already been cited for violating public health guidelines, and security patrols to detect violations on campus will increase over Labor Day weekend.
At a press conference on Friday, SDSU President Adela de la Torre stressed that long-term results in efforts to contain the virus come not from enforcement but from educating students and changing their behavior.
"We need an environment where students understand to test proactively," she said, adding that positive educational messages will lead to behavior change. "If we cannot do that, the plague of parties we see on campus will not stop."
The school had already suspended the relatively few personal classes it held on campus after it was announced that 64 students tested positive on Wednesday.
Luke Wood, vice president of student affairs and chief diversity officer for the university, said the university hired private security firm Elite to ensure students practice social distancing and wear masks on or near campus.
"I want to make it clear that there are ramifications for violating our COVID-19 guidelines," he said.
To date, the school has issued more than 457 quotes in response to violations of the university's COVID-19 guidelines, of which 285 have already made a decision. Wood said further findings from hearings and investigations are expected on Saturday.
While no one has faced the harshest penalties for suspension or deportation, Wood said some serious cases are under investigation.
He also said the university is investigating violations that involve at least eight organizations, including fraternity houses. He didn't name the organizations.
"I don't think we should focus on specific communities, but on our community as a whole," he said.
Wood also said the students were warned through emails and text messages on Thursday night that there would be increased security patrols over the next few days.
"We'll be there this weekend," he said. "We will monitor, identify and track violations."
Wilma Wooten, the district's health officer, dealt with the issue in a press release on Friday.
"SDSU students will have to stay at home this weekend," she said. “We need your help to stop the spread within your campus community and our larger community. If you've been to parties and social events, now is the time to get tested. And isolate until you get results. "
Approximately 8,000 of the approximately 35,500 students enrolled at SDSU returned to campus early in the fall semester on August 24, with most on-site to take classes with hands-on labs.
Nine days later, the university announced it was pausing all face-to-face classes after public health officials said 64 coronavirus cases had been confirmed. Since then, there has been a jump of 87.5% in cases.
Among the confirmed coronavirus cases at the SDSU, 14 different groups were identified in different locations, according to a message from the university.
Some of the groups can be classified as outbreaks, but none of the cases studied relate to educational activities on campus, including classes or laboratories.
Since the beginning of the fall semester, no known cases have been reported among the faculties, employees, visitors or providers of the SDSU.
Also on Friday, county health officials announced that the number of new COVID-19 cases had increased more than 100 in one day and warned that the number could rise after Labor Day weekend.
Given a perfect storm of factors that could lead to a spike, the long weekend will be the first opportunity for many people to visit newly opened stores, which may be all the more tempting during a predicted record heatwave.
The county's health officials warned local residents to learn a lesson from the spikes in cases that followed both Memorial Day and July fourth of that year.
White House coronavirus advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci, issued a similar warning this week when he discovered in a CNN interview that surges had surfaced across the country after other holiday weekends.
Cases in San Diego County also spiked when restaurants, gyms, and other businesses reopened in mid-June, prompting the state to order companies to shut down indoor activities.
Last Friday, the state eased restrictions on these and other businesses, allowing restaurants, gyms, salons, barber shops, shopping malls and places of worship to return to work indoors with various restrictions.
Many cinemas in the county are also reopening this weekend.
In addition to the risk of a new spike, record temperatures are forecast for the county during the three-day weekend that is likely to entice people to escape the heat in an air-conditioned theater, restaurant, or shop.
"Most people won't be working during the long holiday season, but COVID-19 won't take the day off," Wooten said. "The more people go out and the more they interact with people outside their home, the more likely they are to contract the virus."
She urged people not to throw or attend private parties this weekend, avoid crowded places, keep physical distances from other people, and observe other safety precautions such as frequent wearing of face covering and hand washing.
The 453 cases the county reported on Friday were the most since Aug. 7, when 551 were reported. The county also reported that a woman had died with underlying illnesses in her late 60s, bringing the total number of local COVID-19-related deaths to 701.
District officials also reported six new coronavirus outbreaks, including two in grocery stores, one in a restaurant, one in a store, one in a hotel / resort / spa, and one in a hair salon / hair salon.
The new outbreaks are among the 22 confirmed in the past seven days. This is 15 more than the number that the district has committed to action.
Of the 7,554 tests reported to the county on Thursday, 6% were positive. The 14-day moving average rate of positive cases is 4% with a goal of less than 8%.
The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 has increased and decreased in the past few days, but has decreased overall in the last month. The number of people reported in hospital beds on Thursday was 280, 93 of them in intensive care. On August 5, 381 people were hospitalized, 117 of them in intensive care.
Further detailed data can be found on the district's coronavirus website.
Warth writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.