USC sends warning email to off-campus residents about partying during COVID-19

The university said a recent spike in COVID-19 cases is being traced directly to large gatherings.

USC sent an email to students living off-campus regarding the rise of COVID-19 cases that may be linked to large gatherings and parties near campus. According to the email sent on Monday, Feb. 15, the parties ranged from 50 to 100 people and took place on Jan. 30, Feb. 4 and Feb. 6.

“Individuals who may have been in attendance were recently confirmed COVID-19 cases,” the email, signed by USC Student Health, said. It added that others who attended the gatherings should make an appointment for testing, which is available through the school’s Pop Testing program.

USC further asked for cooperation from those who test positive to provide accurate information to assist in contact tracing to “protect the health and safety of USC communities.” The email warned that large gatherings are associated with the significant spread and can expose many individuals at once. “Given community spread in Los Angeles, we expect that additional positive cases will be identified.”

Sophomore business major Sabrina Perla filmed a group of people—many of whom were not wearing masks— gathering in the hallway at The Lorenzo apartments and shared it with a closed group chat on Jan. 14, later sharing it with Annenberg Media. “That’s mad embarrassing,” Perla said in the video as she zoomed in on the group.

Perla, a Lorenzo resident, detailed the scene in an interview. She “heard a lot of people outside” at 11 p.m. When she went out to check, Perla saw around 20 people walking in the hallway without masks.

She said one of the people in the hallway told her everybody gathering there had COVID-19 already, claiming they can’t give it to anyone else.

“[That is] very ignorant in my opinion, because I know someone who had COVID twice already,” Perla remarked in an interview with Annenberg Media. “It makes me really mad that there’s no ICU beds, people are dying and they don’t seem to care.”

Perla called security but they didn’t come— at least not immediately. “They only came when the party was over, then they were already walking out,” Perla said. “So yeah, there’s parties all the time, but they didn’t do anything about it.”

The Lorenzo did not respond to requests for comments in time for publication.

Other USC students living off-campus expressed their dissatisfaction with the university administration’s response to parties and large gatherings under COVID-19 restrictions. Connie Deng, a sophomore majoring in public relations, is aware of people partying around campus, and at times runs into people leaving frat row past midnight.

“At this point, I don’t know how effective those emails are,” Deng said referring to the university’s warnings. “The people who do care and the people who don’t care have already made it clear that they don’t care, which is very problematic and very ignorant of not only their peers but the local community.”

Ishika Agrawal, a global health major, liked how the administration held back from shaming people. “I feel like we know at this point that shaming people doesn’t work,” Agrawal said. “I like how they were like just get tested and be honest if you are positive so that we can contact trace.”

Agrawal thinks the administration is doing “pretty much everything they can” by offering testing and not having in-person classes, though it is not without flaws.

“I also think they are giving free passes to Greek life,” Agrawal said, mentioning a fraternity and sorority mixer with over 60 people at a restaurant which she attended. “Because at the end of the day, you can’t really stop college kids. They’re going to do what they want to do.”

USC Student Affairs explained a three-tier process via email that they have developed with Student Health, DPS, and other campus partners to educate students on the best practices for COVID-19.

“The three-tier process ranges from low-level actions of forgetting to wear a face mask to high-level activity such as attending large gatherings or repeatedly failing to comply with public health guidelines and notifications about behaviors that put others at risk,” Student Affairs said.

According to the email, students who attend large gatherings and whose actions are reported to DPS, including those in late January and early February, are “subject to review and actions under these guidelines,” though the email did not specify what review and actions meant.

However, Perla thinks the problem goes beyond just the university and social gatherings.

“It’s not just partying,” she said. “There’s constantly people not wearing masks in the hallway or in the elevators, so I have to get off the elevator when I see someone not wearing a mask. I also see staff walking past people not wearing masks.”

Perla said because of this, she believes landlords should also be held responsible.

“I think the people who own these buildings also need to play their part in letting the students know to wear masks, or don’t party, but they don’t seem to do that,” Perla said.