June 27, 2020
Dear Members of Our Campus Community:
As testing has become more prevalent in Santa Barbara County and more businesses are reopening, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases across the County and within our campus community is increasing. Yesterday, the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department (SBCPHD) posted four new confirmed COVID-19 cases in Isla Vista. Our campus research study on detecting asymptomatic cases has yielded five positive COVID-19 results in campus participants in the last week, all of which have been referred to SBCPHD for contact tracing and follow up. Four of the five research cases have contacted campus and we therefore know that they were undergraduates, three of whom resided in Isla Vista. Due to research privacy protocols, our researchers and campus have no information on the details of the fifth case. Although the cases do not appear to be related, the research indicates that the disease is becoming more widespread in the surrounding community.
With potentially more of our students – as well as those attending Santa Barbara City College – returning to the area this summer and in the fall, we can expect that the cases in our campus community and in Isla Vista will continue to increase. I am writing to share our approach to informing our community about future cases on our campus and to highlight the role Santa Barbara County Public Health Department (SBCPHD) will play in managing confirmed cases in our campus community.
In order to mitigate the potential spread of the disease among individuals approved to be on campus, our campus has already taken a number of actions. We are also doing extensive planning in anticipation that we will be allowed to resume some in-person instruction this fall. Our efforts include development of a testing program, requiring face coverings on campus, physical distancing practices, cleaning and disinfection protocols, the installation of hand sanitizing stations, and isolation accommodations for students who test positive, among others.
Keeping Our Community Informed and Contact Tracing
When an individual tests positive for COVID-19, SBCPHD is responsible for conducting the necessary contact tracing and alerting direct close contacts to the possibility of transmission. Direct close contact is defined by SBCPHD as being within 6 feet of the individual while not wearing a mask for a time period of 10 minutes or longer. When a case on campus has been confirmed, our University health officials work with SBCPHD to identify those who may be at higher risk of potential transmission. SBCPHD determines the appropriate course of action (quarantine, testing, etc.), and handles all follow-up communications with the individual(s).
When public health experts determine that exposure on campus is isolated and the likelihood of transmission low, campus health experts and officials will identify associated groups (units, labs, departments, building, etc.) and develop localized notifications as appropriate, rather than issuing a broad campus message.
- To keep our community informed when our campus has received confirmation from SBCPHD of multiple related COVID-19 cases that may have the potential to impact our general campus population, we will notify our campus community through a broad campus email or emergency alerts with as much information as we can share while respecting the privacy of individuals. This will be in addition to the local notifications referenced above.
- All COVID-19 notification decisions are made following consultation with public health officials and our campus medical experts, and must follow federal and state confidentiality laws (medical, student, and employee) as well as UC policy in order to protect the privacy of our students, faculty, and staff.
- We are developing a webpage, which will go live next week, to provide our campus community with information about how to report and/or communicate about potential COVID-19 cases. The webpage also will include a section on the number of active campus cases that have been confirmed. The Santa Barbara County Public Health Department website contains the most up-to-date information regarding the number of cases in the County.
- Due to privacy restrictions, SBCPHD may be limited in its ability to disclose information to third parties, such as to our University. Cases may arise in some circumstances where SBCPHD would not notify campus officials, potentially with respect to cases such as those in the off-campus community of Isla Vista.
Again, we would like to take this opportunity to remind members of our campus community to wear face coverings at all times when on campus, in accordance with the order by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), and to continue to work remotely unless performing essential on-campus services or approved on-campus research. Every one of us plays a critical role in helping to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 on our campus and in our community. We urge every one of us to practice all CDPH recommended actions, including physical distancing, to protect our loved ones and our community.
Thank you for all of your collective efforts and sacrifices over the last one hundred days – and our continuing efforts going forward. Whatever challenges may come, we find strength and encouragement in knowing we are all in this together. We will continue to make UC Santa Barbara a uniquely special place.
Henry T. Yang