As the number of confirmed coronavirus cases climbs each day, UC Santa Barbara Student Health is adopting a number of new measures to help mitigate transmission of the coronavirus within the county, which includes conducting virtual appointments. 

Any student who visits Student Health during this time will have their temperature taken and will be asked if they are experiencing any symptoms associated with the coronavirus, such as fever, shortness of breath or cough. Nexus file photo

At UCSB, the new measures translate to operating “as if COVID is here and people are passing it around,” according to Ali Javanbakht, Student Health medical director and interim executive director. 

As of March 28, there are over 119,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the United States. In Santa Barbara County, there are 47. 

So far, 38 UCSB students have been tested for the coronavirus, with no positive results as of yet, Javanbakht said. As of March 25, 18 tests have come back negative and 20 tests are pending results, which can take up to a week to get back. All 38 tests were conducted through Quest Diagnostics, a private testing laboratory. 

For months, Student Health has adhered to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines regarding the coronavirus and worked with numerous campus entities to devise transmission prevention measures. 

But recently, Javanbakht said Student Health has also begun designating a prescription pickup area, conducting virtual appointments and cordoning off a section of Student Health so “students who have any kind of respiratory symptom are in a separate part of the building” and to minimize contact between students and workers at Student Health, he said. 

Any student who visits Student Health during this time will have their temperature taken and will be asked if they are experiencing any symptoms associated with the coronavirus, such as fever, shortness of breath or cough, he added. 

“Our main goal is to do what we can to help our students so that if they end up needing to go to an outside urgent care or emergency room — if COVID spreads as we expect it to — urgent cares and emergency rooms can be really overrun and their demands can be really high,” Javanbakht said. 

Javanbakht said that although the off-campus area is out of Student Health’s purview, the university “acknowledges that they are closely tied” with Isla Vista, where thousands of UCSB students packed their bags to ride out the pandemic at home. As a result, the university is closely monitoring how safe it is for students to not only return to campus, but also to Isla Vista. 

The university is actively encouraging students to stay away from Isla Vista if they can; in an email sent out to the student body on March 23, the university urged students to stay at home if they traveled for spring break, noting that Isla Vista has a population of more than 20,000 in less than two square miles. 

Javanbakht said it is “highly unlikely” that things will return to normal by the end of spring quarter, but “depending on how well we implement our interventions now, as far as social distancing, that could put us in a good position [to return in the] summer.” 

If the situation doesn’t improve by summer, he said, “we could be looking at fall” for in-person classes to resume.  

Amidst cancellations and closures, from UCSB’s postponed commencement ceremony announced Thursday to the order for all non-essential businesses to close, many young adults have ignored calls for social distancing in favor of going out and spending time with friends. But students can risk infecting themselves and others when they do so, Javanbakht said.

Because the virus transmits through “secretions” that come from coughing, talking or exhaling, the closer people are to one another, the higher the risk their interactions carry, he explained.

“If we’re talking about interacting in a way that would be less risky, interacting outside is always better than any kind of indoor space,” he said. “And keeping six feet regardless of where you are, even outdoors, is much better.” 

In transmitting the virus, Javanbakht said each person acts like an “ember.” People who have the virus can spread it to those who do not — by seeing friends, going out and entering other people’s personal spaces — and create a wildfire of contagion, but by staying at home, “the fire’s not going to spread anywhere because it’s contained within [a] house.” 

Communication among housemates also matters, Javanbahkt said. For people who plan to stay in I.V. and are living with multiple housemates, he stressed the importance of keeping outside interactions to a minimum — all it takes is one housemate to spread the virus to everyone in the house.   

“If somebody has three roommates and they’ve lived together all year and they plan to stay together for the rest of spring quarter, that’s great,” he said. “As long as they keep it to those three people and they don’t have people coming over or going over to someone else’s house.”

Although all in-person classes have been canceled, Javanbakht said campus entities from all corners of the university frequently meet to discuss protocols, contingency plans and emergency operations. 

The entities include the UCSB COVID-19 Task Force, made up of the chancellor, vice chancellor, faculty and financial department members, as well as the COVID-19 operations team, which includes the vice chancellor and representatives from Student Health and Housing and Dining Services, he said.  

It was during these twice-a-day meetings, which he said have been taking place for several weeks, that campus entities such as the University Library and Recreation Center made the decision to close indefinitely. 

Going forward, Javanbakht said the university plans to update the student body about which services they can access during a digital spring quarter.

He said the updates will detail “what’s going to be done remotely, what kinds of services are available in person, what’s operating and what’s not operating.”

“There are plenty of [messages] that will be coming out as the situation evolves,” he said.

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