As Isla Vista nears 50 confirmed cases of COVID-19, violations of public health orders and coronavirus-related university policies could lead to follow-ups with UC Santa Barbara’s Office of Student Conduct, administrators informed students in an email sent July 7 after reports surfaced of an alleged “COVID party.”

With cases spiking in Santa Barbara county — 45 of which have been confirmed in Isla Vista alone as of Aug. 2 — the spread of COVID-19 presents a potential health threat as some students plan to return to campus and I.V. for Fall Quarter 2020. Nexus file photo

“The increase in the number of COVID-19 cases is very concerning to us,” Margaret Klawunn, vice chancellor for student affairs, said in an email to the Nexus. Under “Failure to Comply” and “Health and Safety,” violations 102.16 and 102.08, it’s possible for student conduct to take action if a student is threatening the safety of others.

“Discipline would depend on the offense and on the impact of the violation. Penalties can range from a warning to suspension or even expulsion,” Klawunn said in the email. 

Students will also be required to complete an educational module on the coronavirus and sign a community compact representing their willingness to follow the new directives for the upcoming school year, Klawunn said.  

The July 7 email sent to students mentioned reports of a “COVID Party” at a private residence in Isla Vista, and the email called on students to contact UCSB Student Health with any information concerning the event or those who might have participated. UCSB Student Health is working to track potential cases that may arise from “COVID parties,” Ali Javanbakht, student health medical director, said. 

Javanbakht said that students have told UCSB Student Health about a “variety of cases,” some involving a “COVID party” and some unrelated. 

Student Health is given names and addresses of UCSB students who might have been exposed to the coronavirus, according to Javanbakt. But students are often wary of speaking to Student Health for fear of punishment from the university, he added. 

“What I really want to impress upon students is that we are not a punitive agency. We are trying to keep people safe, and that is separate from student conduct,” Javanbakt said. “We aren’t asking if there are drugs there, we aren’t asking if there’s alcohol, because those things aren’t relevant.” 

With cases spiking in Santa Barbara county — 45 of which have been confirmed in Isla Vista alone as of Aug. 2 — the spread of COVID-19 presents a potential health threat as some students plan to return to campus and I.V. for Fall Quarter 2020, regardless of remote instruction. 

According to Javanbakht, I.V.’s cramped living conditions, infamous for housing 10 or more people under the same roof, can make tracking the spread of coronavirus increasingly difficult. 

“We never know exactly when we will get a call informing us of a possible coronavirus case, and then, that number of people we need to talk to can multiply exponentially, just because of how many people live in one house,” he said.

The “COVID party” email warned students of the importance of following public health orders and noted that if students do not take safety precautions seriously, “it will be difficult, even if [UCSB is] allowed by the State, to resume in-person instruction on the campus and to re-open our housing and recreation facilities.”

In an email to students from Chancellor Henry T. Yang on June 18,  he informed students of the university’s plans to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, including enforcement of social distancing practices, remote learning for classes over 50 and minimization of group gatherings. Currently, only a limited number of classes are being offered in-person. 

To Javanbakht, another possible coronavirus mitigation tactic could come in the form of preexisting regulations for fabled UCSB party weekends, like Halloween and Deltopia. 

“For Halloween, for Deltopia, we’re locking things down, kind of checking who is coming in and out. And that kind of strategy could really work to prevent COVID, because although I.V. has the potential for a coronavirus outbreak, theoretically, it could also be a very safe place, because it’s pretty isolated.” 

But the risks of a coronavirus outbreak in Isla Vista could be severe, according to Dr. Javanbakht. 

“I mean, that’s what’s keeping me up at night,” he said. “If we have thousands of cases here, there are going to also be deaths.” 

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Holly Rusch
Holly Rusch is an asst. news editor for the Daily Nexus. She can be reached at news@dailynexus.com or hollyrusch@dailynexus.com.