Five UCSB students came in contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19 at San Diego’s Crssd Festival | Credit: Courtesy

After attending what is likely the last electro dance music festival for a long time, five UC Santa Barbara students were placed in quarantine when a friend they met there — who’d just returned from Italy — tested positive for COVID-19. From the talk in Isla Vista, which turned out to be fairly accurate, the details unearthed form a snapshot of a disease cluster avoided.

The futuristic techno-sounds of Crssd — pronounced “Crossed” not “Cursed” — brought the group of mostly fourth-years to San Diego the weekend of March 7-8 at San Diego’s expansive Waterfront Park. The festival featured four dozen performers on three stages with international deejays headlining, like Gesaffelstein from France, Chris Lake of Scotland, and Carl Cox from the U.K. There, they met up with their friend, a San Diego State University student who’d been sent home by the school’s study abroad program.

By March 13, SDSU had notified its community that a student tested positive and that he or she was in quarantine at home outside San Diego County. In Italy, the disease curve was just starting its steep arc upward.

Coronavirus was a spreading meme at the time among UCSB students. The school had converted to no in-person classes on March 11, only three teaching days before finals week. The weekend before, photos on social media showed hazmat-suited paramedics on campus that Friday. Public Health officials stated they’d heard “nothing more” about the patient and reassured reporters the county had zero cases of COVID-19.

They sent an alert, however, on March 15 that “a health care partner” said multiple Isla Vista residents had close contact with a positive case in San Diego. Word was they’d been sharing drinks and cups at the festival.

Five UCSB students were put under mandatory quarantine after Santa Barbara County Public Health worked “aggressively” to locate the exposed individuals, according to spokesperson Jackie Ruiz. They were now separately quarantined in an “undisclosed location.” All had mild to very mild symptoms, she said.

One of the students had 12 housemates, and within a short time all the roommates of the five students were under self-quarantine and self-monitoring. UCSB advised all students to stay home. In San Diego, a “handful” of people who’d attended Crssd were advised to self-quarantine, according to health officials. Statewide, California’s governor ordered shelter-in-place the following Thursday.

The student back from Italy reportedly didn’t know they were infected, Isla Vistans said. It can take a few days after contamination before the COVID-19 test gives a positive result, and some medical studies indicate patients become infectious about 12 hours before developing symptoms. While many students in Isla Vista heeded the warnings and practiced social distancing, others crowded around restaurants and held parties at Sands beach.

UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang emailed students on March 17, revealing that one student had been tested by Student Health and was negative. The five students exposed in San Diego remained in quarantine, the chancellor wrote.

Crssd festival organizers acknowledged on March 18 that two people infected with the COVID-19 virus had been among the crowd, which numbered about 15,000 per day, according to Billboard. All attendees were notified directly, said festival organizers.

That day, Public Health confirmed negative test results for all five but kept them in quarantine until March 22. The five students are now released to the usual social distancing, Ruiz emailed on Tuesday. They are “symptom and illness free,” she wrote. San Diego Public Health stated their friend was still at home in isolation.


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