LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – The campus of the University of Southern California remains mostly empty, with most classes offered remotely for the fall semester, but there was a growing concern Monday after 43 students living off campus tested positive for COVID-19.

A banner on the USC campus reminds students and staff to social distance, wear a face covering and sanitize their hands. (CBSLA)

“It just seems like there’s a lot of small group gatherings among people outside of their households, and it’s spreading that way,” Dr. Kimberly Tilley, USC Student Health co-medical director, said.

According to Tilley, 14 cases were identified through asymptomatic population testing, and 29 cases were identified through contact tracing. She said more than 100 students living off-campus were now under a 14-day quarantine due to exposure.

“Even socializing in smaller groups, having a few friends over to eat or to play a game or cards and so forth, if one person has the virus and then they transmit it over that hour or two because there’s that close physical contact,” she said.

Students on campus said they believed a recent party held in the courtyard of the Gateway apartment complex may have caused the spike in cases. There were reportedly more than 100 people in attendance.

“It’s like an eye roll, but honestly, I wasn’t that surprised,” Ella Lao, a sophomore, said. “You’re risking your own self and the others around you so it’s kind of a very self-discipline decision you have to make.”

“There’s definitely a group that still do it which is really frustrating especially because my group of friends has been trying to kind of keep within the bubble,” Aidan Tyssee, another sophomore, said.

Because of the growing number of cases, USC Health officials were strongly recommending that students living near the campus, especially those with roommates, get tested weekly at asymptomatic population testing sites. Those currently experiencing symptoms were encouraged to call the USC Health Center immediately.

“By getting the test back a little bit faster, usually within 12-24 hours, we can really contact trace and contact all of their contacts then and have them quarantine,” Tilley said. “And really that’s the only way we’re going to slow the spread of the virus.”

Sophomore Garrett Murphy is one of the USC students who previously tested positive for COVID-19.

“I actually ended up getting it in June,” he said.

And while Murphy ended up being asymptomatic, he quarantined at the USC hotel in an effort to protect his roommates.

“You just don’t want to be the person that’s causing harm to somebody else,” he said. “Just be careful and look out for fellow students and our L.A. population, for sure.”

The outbreak was first reported by the USC student paper the Daily Trojan.

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