Campus outbreak threatens San Diego's economic recovery

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FILE - In this Sept. 2, 2020, file photo, a woman wears a mask as she walks on campus at San Diego State University in San Diego. A coronavirus outbreak of more than 700 cases reported at San Diego State University has put all of San Diego County, with more than 3 million people, at risk of having to close indoor dining and shopping, many for a third time under California guidelines. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File)

SAN DIEGO – The start of the semester at San Diego State University was, as always, a time for students to make and renew friendships on and off its urban campus and enjoy the beach and the city's unmatched August weather.

The coronavirus meant far fewer people returned to campus this year but the parties, cookouts and other festivities that mark the start of the fall semester went on as usual for a week or two, then abruptly stopped as infections quickly mounted.

James Floyd, a freshman from Davis, California, noticed a mood change when classmates began getting tested. “Once a friend got it, they got scared,” he said.

There have been larger outbreaks at U.S. colleges but none may be more impactful than the one at San Diego State.

California has seen remarkable recent success with the virus — the infection rate of 2.8% for the last week is the lowest since the pandemic began, and hospitalizations dropped to a level not seen since the first week of April. But the campus outbreak is large enough to put San Diego County over a state threshold for cases that mandates many businesses close or restrict indoor operations.

For some, it will mark the third closure since California instituted the nation's first statewide shutdown order in March.

It is a dizzying and discouraging turn of events for the county of 3.3 million residents that less than a month ago was the only one in Southern California with virus case numbers low enough to advance to a second level in the state's four-tiered system for reopening.

The county argued that San Diego State cases — which have topped 800 among students — should be excluded from state tallies, like prisons are. Gov. Gavin Newsom rejected the proposal before it was even formally delivered.