As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in California and across the nation, USF has recently been hit with its own series of cases in Loyola Village Residence Hall.
According to a statement to the Foghorn made by Torry Brouillard-Bruce, senior director of Student Housing and Residential Education (SHaRE), USF was made aware of a student who tested positive for COVID-19 on Nov. 6 via the Dons Health Check platform, a daily symptom reporting tool used by anyone residing or living on campus. Through contact tracing, it was determined that the student’s two roommates as well as three other students had come into close contact with them. Four of the six students ultimately tested positive for the coronavirus.
SHaRE asked any students who tested positive or were in close contact with the individuals to temporarily move into vacant rooms in Loyola Village, where they quarantined in isolation for 14 days. USF’s COVID-19 contact tracing entity also spoke with the students to identify who else had recently been in contact with them.
Following the positive test results on Nov. 17, SHaRE emailed a public health advisory to Loyola Village residents. In this email, students were notified of four confirmed cases and two other close contact individuals who had immediately followed isolation protocols. Since then, all of the six affected students have met the San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH) criteria to be released from their isolation.
Loyola Village resident and senior politics and PASJ double major Kalan Birnie attributed the outbreak to a lack of COVID-19 protocol enforcement. “Before move-in, we got tons of emails and pages of protocols and restrictions. We had to sign pledges and take a Canvas course on COVID-19 protocols on campus and in housing,” Birnie said. “Then within a few weeks on campus, it seems like everyone realized these weren’t rules as much as they were suggestions that weren’t enforced. It all went out the window pretty quickly. I’m personally aware of parties in [Loyola Village], even students hosting visitors from outside of San Francisco for a few nights at a time.”
As for managing rule enforcement, Birnie said that residents get emails and an occasional visit from Public Safety officers to remind them of the University’s COVID-19 policies. Birnie said he believes the lack of enforcement is not unique to the residence halls, but around campus as well.
A community assistant (CA) for Loyola Village spoke to the Foghorn on the condition of anonymity for fear of losing their job.
“I do think they could have handled [enforcement of COVID protocol] better at the beginning. When everyone moved on to campus originally, everyone had to quarantine for 14 days. They didn’t have anyone watching if the residents left the room. My co-workers and I mentioned it in our staff meetings,” they said.
Despite this criticism of early enforcement, the CA said they felt that they were notified of the cases in a timely manner. “I think since this is like the first time we’ve had people test positive, [SHaRE] was pretty good about letting us know. I found out from coworkers that morning [of Nov. 17] and then [SHaRE] let us know a few hours later,” they said. “I think they were prepared for these cases. I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner.”
In an email to the Foghorn, Brouillard-Bruce emphasized that SHaRE relies, in part, on students to report any violations to the health and safety residential policies.“Should any student believe there is a violation of the policy, they are encouraged to submit an incident report and SHaRE will work with [The Office of Student Conduct, Rights and Responsibilities] to investigate any reported violation. We cannot investigate violations of the updated policies if we are not informed that violations are occurring,“ he said.
As a result of the positive COVID cases and in an effort to reduce the possibility of additional cases, SHaRE has mandated that on-campus residents returning from holiday travels participate in a two-week quarantine. SHaRE announced this decision Nov. 18, three days before the University’s Thanksgiving break began. Birnie said this new mandate was “frustrating” because he cancelled his Thanksgiving travel plans on short notice in order to avoid spending the rest of the semester in quarantine once he returned.
Since the initial report, there have been no new cases of COVID-19 in Loyola Village. Brouillard-Bruce credited this to, “The prompt action to move students to isolation and quarantine, following San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH) guidelines, helped contain the spread of the virus,” he said. “The university worked hand-in-hand with SFDPH on this situation and continues to follow all guidance and guidelines set forth by SFDPH.”
Editor’s Note: Kalan Birnie, who provided comment for this story, is a former staff member of the San Francisco Foghorn.