By Associated Press - Wednesday, September 16, 2020

SAN DIEGO (AP) - California officials said Wednesday the state would not consider removing college students’ virus cases from a county’s data because they are part of the broader community and can contribute to the spread of the illness.

“You can’t isolate as if it’s on an island, a campus community that is part of a larger community,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said. He spoke hours before Greg Cox, chairman of the San Diego County board of supervisors, wrote the governor asking that he seriously consider excluding San Diego State University from the county’s count.

The issue arose as San Diego County - the state’s second-most populous - has seen hundreds of cases among college students that have helped drive up infections.

San Diego State University has reported more than 700 cases, prompting the university to move classes online and, on Tuesday, mandate testing for students living on campus.

While about one of four infected students live on campus, the vast majority live off campus, within blocks, said Dr. Eric McDonald, San Diego County Health and Human Service Agency’s director of epidemiology and immunization services. The school cannot require testing of off-campus students because it lacks jurisdiction.

County officials struck a note of urgency.

“I’m definitely not a person who likes to think of this ‘our fate is sealed’ type of attitude,” McDonald said.

The cases could push the county into a more restrictive tier for business operations next week. Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s health and human services secretary, said state officials are working with the county but if the data indicate that infections surpass state levels, the county will change tiers.

“If that’s what the data shows, that’s what the state is going to expect,” he said.

California has seen virus infections slow in recent weeks to the lowest levels in months. The state’s positivity rate over seven days was 3.6 percent, with an average of 3,348 new coronavirus cases reported each day, and hospitalizations fell by 22 percent over a 14-day period, Newsom said. The positivity rate in San Diego is higher, at 4.5 percent.

“We are turning the corner and suppressing this latest increase,” he said.

Under the state’s color-coded reopening system, counties revert to a tier with more restrictive limits if cases are above state-required thresholds for two straight weeks. The system is updated on Tuesdays.

Supervisor Kristin Gaspar wrote to the governor last week about San Diego State. While she joined a board majority Tuesday in defeating a proposal to defy state orders, she said the campus should be removed from the count.

“If this does not happen, we will have no choice but to take more drastic action,” she said.

Seven people not connected to San Diego State have caught the virus from its students - three who live in San Diego County and four elsewhere, McDonald said.

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