LOS ANGELES — The USC campus is a virtual ghost town. Classes are mostly online now, and getting on to the actual campus requires a COVID-19 screening process.

But while on campus socializing has halted, off-campus housing facilities are seeing what USC Student Health is calling an “alarming” rise in COVID-19 cases. The source? Large social gatherings in off-campus housing, what we used to call “parties”.

What You Need To Know

  • USC officials sent letter to all students and faculty reminding them of safety protocols at critical juncture in pandemic

  • Over 40 student cases of COVID-19 traced to off-campus housing

  • 100 students under 14-day quarantine due to possible exposure

  • Campus access is limited and entrants are screened, but officials cannot monitor off-campus behavior

Camille Smart, a neuroscience student who lives just a few blocks from USC, often walks to the nearby USC Village to study, a place she says in pre-COVID days would be teeming with activity.

“There would be lots of people going in and out of stores, just sitting studying, talking with other students, but it's very, very dry now,” Smart said.

Smart, who is in her senior year and on track to graduate in the spring, does enter the actual USC campus on occasion but says it's not difficult to keep her distance in the nearly-vacant spaces. The only people she sees with any regularity are her roommates.

“I'm not really interacting with students too often,” she explained. “Just the two students that I live with. But we each have our own room, so it's easy to stay socially-distanced.”

With over 40 new cases of COVID-19 reported in the University Park campus community, and over a hundred more under a 14-day quarantine due to possible exposure, USC officials sent a bulletin to all students and faculty urging greater care and avoidance of social gatherings at this critical juncture in the pandemic’s path.

Smart says she feels safe at her place and that the leasing company management of her building has done a good job of communicating safety protocols. Even so, Smart does like to get out of the house to study, especially on nice days, and does so safely.

“I really enjoy being able to be around other people and talk to other people,” Smart said. “It's kind of hard to be confined for so long and not be able to go out and go to a concert, to go to party, to do the things you normally would do.”

But Smart is aware of the spike in COVID-19 cases in the area and says she is sticking to protocol more than ever.

“My roommates have been tested as well,” said Smart. “You know, we're making sure we stay on top of it, so at least somebody in the house is getting tested. I mean, I understand that we have to do what we have to do to be safe right now. That's why it's also important to just stay socially-distanced. Don't have these parties. Just give it a break until it's safe to be able to do these things again.”

In their email to the student body, USC officials stated it will continue to remind everyone of the importance of maintaining safety protocols and recommends weekly testing among roommates.

Smart said it is tough to stay isolated and there are temptations, but for her, it is a no-brainer to do the right thing. “If you're not worried about yourself, think about the people who you could be affecting,” she said.

Camille Smart said she does feel USC has done a good job of maintaining safety on campus, but with little control of students off-campus, the responsibility lies with the students themselves.