The California State University campuses with the most reported cases of COVID-19 have something else in common — they also regularly top the lists of best party schools in the state.

San Diego State, Cal Poly, and Chico State are suffering some of the worst coronavirus outbreaks among the 23 CSU schools.

Around the U.S., college towns have been some of the hardest hit as students in other states returned to campus, only to be sent home weeks later after an outbreak. Parties and gatherings are bearing most of the blame.

As of Dec. 16, there have been 1,998 COVID-19 cases reported at San Diego State, 884 at Cal Poly, and 244 at Chico State.

Cases at San Diego State skyrocketed after the semester began in August. The school has tried to stifle the outbreak by issuing cease-and-desist orders for parties and canceling spring break, according to NBC 7 San Diego.

A large population of Cal Poly students who live on campus have tested positive or have been in quarantine since the semester started, according to The Tribune. The outbreak is tied to sororities and dorm residents holding gatherings.

For a brief time in October, small outdoor parties were allowed in Fresno, but when the county slid back into the purple tier under Gov. Gavin Newsom's Blueprint for a Safer Economy, parties were also taken off the list of acceptable activities.

Now, California's stricter regional stay-at-home order prohibits any gatherings with people outside of the household.

Is Fresno State partying?

In Fresno County, residents ages 20-29 make up the largest population of those infected by COVID-19, according to health department data. That comes to about 9,600 since the pandemic began. The average age of college students also fits into that demographic.

The CSU has kept nearly all its courses online through the spring 2021 semester, but that hasn't stopped parties, according to some Fresno State students.

Student Maleena Khamthong said she hasn't gone to a party since the pandemic started but said she sees social media posts with people partying.

"There have been multiple frat and sorority gatherings that aren't safe and shouldn't be happening," she said. "As much as seeing friends would be nice, it's not safe and doesn't help anything."

She said she's seen "lots of people posting themselves partying on Snapchat and even going to secret raves in Hanford."

Savanna Borges, another Fresno State student, lives in an apartment complex a few blocks from campus.

"There are parties all the time," she said. "Especially for Halloween. There were multiple parties, and no one here wears masks, not even maintenance or the office personnel."

Before the fall 2020 semester, Fresno State reported 17 cases of COVID-19 within its diminished on-campus population. As of Monday, which began finals week, there had been a total of 88 cases since the pandemic started.

But that may not tell the whole story, as Fresno State only reports positive cases from people who were on campus while they were infected, according to the university. Most of the campus was taking online-only courses, and many employees are working from home.

Tracking COVID-19 at California state colleges

It's been tough to track the coronavirus at colleges, as most cases must be self-reported or come in through different testing sites. How campuses report out the information also varies, according to Toni Molle, a spokesperson with the California State University Chancellor's Office.

"Campuses are basing their reporting on the information that is available," she said in an email to The Bee. "So, how they report out will differ."

"Some campuses are doing testing and/or tracing and others are not. Some campuses have partnered with their county/regional health agency for testing/tracing."

At Cal Poly, university employees are not counted in the data. But San Diego State is tracking COVID-19 numbers for all of its population, whether they have stepped foot on campus during the pandemic or not.

Fresno State tracks all students, employees, and contractors who have been on campus and have tested positive. The jump in cases recently coincides with what the county is seeing, said Fresno State spokesperson Lisa Boyles Bell.

"As cases continue to surge in Fresno County, it makes sense more cases may be reported on campus, as we are seeing throughout the entire region," she said.

The Education Lab is a local journalism initiative that highlights education issues critical to the advancement of the San Joaquin Valley. It is funded by donors. Read more from The Bee's Education Lab on our website.


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