SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The number of confirmed coronavirus cases linked to California State University, Chico, is rising, school officials said Tuesday, with a lack of test kits hampering its ability to screen for the virus on campus.
The university abruptly halted in-person classes this week, and 36 students and staffers are now confirmed to be infected in the outbreak.
"We are receiving positive cases on a daily basis," Juanita Mottley, the university's student health center director, said in an online news conference Tuesday.
The Chico State outbreak is the latest on a university campus as colleges around the country struggle to control the spread of the virus, prompting leaders in some college towns to raise alarms. Many campus outbreaks have been linked to parties and socializing at bars and fraternity and sorority houses.
Mottley and other officials said they could not pinpoint a cause for the Chico State outbreak but also did not want to lay blame.
"I don't think anything went wrong. This virus is so highly contagious. Until we know more about the virus and there is a vaccine, there is really no way to control it," Mottley said.
She said the campus outbreak coincided with a rise in the number of cases in the county and that there are "folks who are asymptomatic that are carrying the virus, so it's just a wild spread."
The Butte County public health department did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
University President Gaye Hutchinson sent an email Sunday to the campus community saying Chico State was canceling its limited number of in-person classes and that students needed to vacate campus housing within a week due to "rapid and alarming rates of COVID-19 cases." On Sunday, the number of cases was at "nearly 30."
Officials said the outbreak occurred despite numerous precautions, including requiring students to take mandatory training and limiting university housing to single-room accommodations for about 750 students — roughly one-third of the typical occupancy. Like other campuses in the Cal State system, it was only offering about 10% of classes in person.
One precaution it was unable to take was universal testing of students and faculty on campus.
"We don't have access to the testing kits. They are not available to us," Mottley said.
She said the university has been requesting the tests since March but the testing supplies are prioritized for hospitals and county health departments.
"That's why we didn't do bulk testing on campus," Mottley said.
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