County asks state not to count SDSU virus cases toward more restrictions

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SAN DIEGO — State officials seem unlikely to separate San Diego State University’s growing coronavirus outbreak from the county’s overall COVID-19 metrics — a step some leaders hoped could prevent a backslide toward more health restrictions across the region.

In a briefing Wednesday, health officials reported 264 new COVID-19 infections and six additional deaths from the virus, raising the region’s totals to 43,445 cases and 748 deaths.

The average number of reported daily cases in California has been falling for weeks, but virus cases in San Diego have been trending higher and are now above statewide averages. The county is seeing an uptick and is nearing the “purple tier,” in the state’s color-coded system.

If the county regresses to that tier, it would likely shutter indoor operations for restaurants, houses of worship and gyms, limit retail businesses to just 25% capacity and have major impacts on indoor business for most other industries.

One major factor in the uptick is the 722 reported cases at San Diego State University, and county officials have formally asked the governor’s office not to count the school’s cases — or any other local colleges’ — toward the threshold for more restrictions.

County Supervisor Greg Cox said the board voted unanimously to request that the state not count “numbers from San Diego State University and other colleges where students are more easily contained and monitored in a campus environment.”

“We believe that will make a big difference and give us a fighting chance to avoid further restrictions,” Cox said. “Unfortunately, so far, the state is not receptive to our request. But we will continue to push for reasonable alternatives.”

Indeed, in his own news conference Wednesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom appeared firmly opposed to the idea of not counting university outbreaks toward community totals, saying in part, “The answer is no.”

The governor said the county can’t separate cases at a university because it goes to “what a community by definition is — and that is integrated individuals, and as a consequence you can’t isolate — as if it’s on an island — a campus community that is part of the larger community.”

But Dr. Eric McDonald, the San Diego’s epidemiology expert, said Wednesday that the vast majority of those students live in the 92115 ZIP Code around the university — many just a few blocks off campus. He said that while it is true they are technically in the community at large, they are close enough to campus to make the county’s request to exclude those positive tests from the countywide number a realistic endeavor.

McDonald said fewer than 10 known cases in the overall community are linked to interaction with SDSU students, and the university is ramping up its COVID-19 testing protocols through a new random surveillance testing program which requires all students living on campus to be tested for the virus.

The surveillance program began Wednesday, with around 500 students to be tested every day through Saturday, then starting again Monday.

All students living in SDSU residence halls and apartments will be assigned testing slots at either the Student Health Services Calpulli Center, or the HHSA testing location at the Parma Payne Goodall Alumni Center.

Students will be notified of their assigned testing window, along with instructions on what to do, through their SDSU email address.

The university has not received any reports of faculty or staff who have tested positive, SDSU health officials said, nor have any cases been traced to classroom or research settings.

Despite the heavy focus on the university, Supervisor Nathan Fletcher reminded residents Wednesday that around three-quarters of the county’s cases have nothing to do with SDSU, and that it would take action on all communities’ part to stop the virus’ spread.

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