USC’s Student Safety-on-Campus Balancing Act

But that bubble burst on Wednesday, when eight athletes in football and men’s water polo tested positive for COVID-19, forcing USC to pause workouts in both sports until at least Monday.

The sudden influx of cases did little to damage the department’s confidence in its virus safety protocols. In a statement, athletic director Mike Bohn noted that USC has “effective mitigation strategies in place” and was choosing to pause workouts “out of an abundance of caution.” The cases had been contracted off-campus, USC said. Any chance of future exposure was “very low.”

Still, the sudden shutdown was a reminder of the razor-thin room for error with COVID-19 on college campuses, even in California, where workouts remain outdoors and noncontact.

The pause comes two days after USC sent out a Student Health notice warning of “an alarming increase” in COVID-19 cases among students. Just one week into a semester taught almost entirely online, 43 cases had been identified and more than 100 students had been placed in a 14-day quarantine. All of those cases, the university said, were related to students living off-campus.

Among those now identified by USC are the eight athletes on its football and men’s water polo teams, all of whom have since been isolated. A person close to the situation confirmed that the shutdown was directly connected to the spread that began off-campus, where many students are still living in private apartments and houses.

In her note to students on Monday, Dr. Sarah Van Orman, chief health officer for USC Student Health, warned of the perils of students gathering off-campus and sharing in activities at close contact.

“We need every student’s support of these goals to succeed,” Van Orman said. “All USC students … are counting on you to make the right decisions, right now.”

USC athletes were asked to sign a “risk and shared responsibility acknowledgment” form as part of the pre-participation checklist they filled out before returning to campus. USC safety Isaiah Pola-Mao acknowledged last month that a violation of that agreement “almost seems inevitable.”

“I know people are going to want to go out and be out with their friends, but I think that’s just a sacrifice we’re going to have to make,” Pola-Mao said. “I don’t know if everyone will buy-in, but we’re going to have to.”

Athletes on both teams will receive rapid response tests to assure the spread of the virus has been contained. But with athletes living among other students in off-campus housing, the risk of community spread has grown considerably since the start of the semester, even as classes remain online and fall sports seasons are postponed until spring. The uncertainty has left some universities and athletic departments scrambling to deal with the onset of mass outbreaks.

At USC, a thorough set of safety protocols had put many athletes and coaches at ease since mid-June, when they began trickling onto campus for voluntary workouts. Daily wellness checks were required, along with weekly tests and daily temperature scans. A barcode scan was required to trace entry into McKay Center, where masks were worn at all times. Eight total athletes had tested positive since being welcomed back, but athletes largely suggested they felt safe on campus.

That safety was breached on Wednesday, shutting down football and men’s water polo workouts for at least five days. Unaffected by the outbreak, USC’s women’s soccer, women’s volleyball, and men’s and women’s basketball teams will continue with workouts.

latimes.com

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Jamaica
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Jamaica(@jamaica)
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August 31, 2020 4:27 pm

I guess with what Iowa (having to stop practices) and Auburn (has lost 16 players) has experienced, maybe the warnings of COVID-19 are legit after all. There are other programs like Oklahoma that show you can’t prevent the virus from penetrating a so called protection bubble of safety. And I am willing to bet there are other programs still practicing but are not confessing their COVID-19 attack numbers.

ATL D.D.S.
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ATL D.D.S.(@atl-d-d-s)
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August 30, 2020 7:50 am

I see Pete Carroll is acting like a NorCal SJW again. I liked him so much better before I knew he was a misguided naive
bleeding heart. Shut up and coach or quit and go be a community activist,

ATL D.D.S.
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August 30, 2020 3:11 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

I miss the weather. But there is nothing about current life in CA that would ever drag me back to the West Coast. And to think Ronaldus Magnus was governor when I was a kid!

TrojanRJJ
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August 29, 2020 8:33 am

This is a great chance to test whether Scott Frost or the Pac 12 “leadership” was correct. Remember, Frost argued against the claim that cancellation was required by “player safety” because (a) the kids were more at risk from the flu than Covid, (b) you had to compare the risk to the kids playing versus the kids not playing and when doing that, playing actually reduces the risk as (i) the kids are NOT going to self-quarantine if they do not play – they are going to be exposed to it without testing and without immediate medical care. So, let’s… Read more »

gametv
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August 29, 2020 10:19 am
Reply to  TrojanRJJ

i thought it was a bad decision to cancel the season when they did, but as I look at the COVID stats, I am wondering if there is going to be a really big fall 2nd wave. cases are falling more southern states, but some northern states are seeing increases. If warm temps reduce the spread of the disease, then we are getting a false sense of things getting better right now. if COVID cases skyrocket, then even the SEC will have a hard time keeping their schedules intact.

Rock2112
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September 1, 2020 6:49 pm
Reply to  gametv

The virus doesn’t seem to care about temperature. Fall spikes are more about people being forced inside with each other. But, actually, with all the social distancing protocols in place and in-restaurant dining still limited or non-existent in some parts of the country, it may be different with this virus. We are already locked inside with our families, roommates, and other quarantine groups. The high infection risk is those that are running out and about too much, but there should be less of that without crowded office elevators, crowded lobbies, movie theaters, malls, and other traditional places of spreading infectious… Read more »

Jamaica
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August 27, 2020 4:31 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Oh and I suppose if Nebraska’s State Governor had postponed an games in Nebraska, the players would have sued the Governor. Or the NCAA or UofN’s president or anyone else making a call the players didn’t like. Get a life you idiots…. its about your health!

Terrific Tommy
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August 27, 2020 6:04 pm
Reply to  Jamaica

It’s even more pathetic than that Jamaica. For example, you went to college (I assume USC) and imagine not being allowed to have your parents share your big moment/achievement with you at a formal graduation ceremony. That happened too many this past May.

Man, that would suck IMHO — but I never read about any student, mother or father suing over it. So boo-freaking-who — you cannot play football this Fall. Grow the hell up and put on your big boy pants. You’ll get a chance down the road — unlike students who were denied a graduation ceremony. 😰

RialtoTrojan
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August 27, 2020 7:14 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

I wonder at this late date, if the people pressing this issue believe it will move forward quick enough to make a difference. I really don’t see the thought process behind the litigation where there is little or no chance of a favorable outcome. As much as I hate the postponement of cancellation, I also realize that I am not qualified to know if this pandemic is a tempest in a teapot or not, so I would rather error on the side of health than push forward and find out it was wrong to do so. I love football but… Read more »

gametv
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August 28, 2020 6:58 am
Reply to  Allen Wallace

I’m wondering if there are some coaching staffs in the Big 10 that encouraged their players to file this lawsuit. If you are a Big 10 coach and were pissed at the decision, then you might want to have the dirty laundry of the league exposed to the open air.

My guess is that the players have been told there is something rotten that went on by the coaches.

Rock2112
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August 28, 2020 11:35 am
Reply to  RialtoTrojan

Rialto, I am curious why you and so many others think not playing football is the way to err on the side of health. Like almost every situation I have seen like it, USC’s 8 players contracted the virus while they were AWAY from the controlled environment of USC football, and all the protocols, testing, and cleaning that comes with it. If my son was a football player, I would consider him MUCH safer inside a football environment than outside it. That’s the elephant in the room and I get frustrated that no one addresses that. Want to get the… Read more »

Rock2112
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August 28, 2020 11:59 am
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Allen, I do think the political environment is driving it. More specifically, I think that politics are the reason no one is questioning the policy. The Big10 players’ suit is right — we need to look behind the conclusions to see if any analysis was done. Let’s pretend I put you in a time machine back to last year. Pre-COVID, can you imagine what evidence the world would have required to see before someone would get away with cancelling an entire college football season for JUST ONE TEAM?! But now, we say we’re keeping players “safe” and it’s a free… Read more »

Rock2112
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August 28, 2020 12:50 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Yeah, that stood out to me too Allen. Seemed to come out of nowhere. Although there was a dust-up this past week at Iowa State after a so-called professor put in her syllabus that any paper arguing in favor of blue lives matter or against black lives matter will not be tolerated. Even given the current state of our universities, it was shocking — so much so that even the University clamped down (likely reluctantly).

gametv
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August 28, 2020 1:44 pm
Reply to  Rock2112

that would probably not be a problem in San Francisco, but in Iowa, even academics probably cant get away with that.

Steveg
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August 28, 2020 7:36 pm
Reply to  Rock2112

Universities have been taking in money like crazy for years. Now if they don’t endorse free speech, a huge chunk will disappear. I do admire Trump for taking that position.