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Cal State Long Beach Employees Worry Lax Safety Measures May Have Led To Student COVID Outbreak

A COVID-19 outbreak among Cal State Long Beach students has university staff concerned about safety. (Long Beach State University Public Affairs)
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As the COVID-19 outbreak at Cal State Long Beach grew this week, so too did concern from university employees who may have come into contact with students who have tested positive.

“It is kind of scary,” said a custodian who cleans the Cal State Long Beach dorms, where at least 14 of the 22 students who tested positive live. The custodian feared retaliation from administrators and asked to remain anonymous.

The custodian has seen students close to each other in groups after lunch, all without face coverings or with the covering worn only on their chin, instead over their mouths. The custodian plans to take a COVID test this week.

”I do have kids and stuff like that — I don't never want to take a virus back home to my family. So I just want to make sure that I'm safe as well,” the custodian said.

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In an update on the outbreak released on Wednesday, the university said it was “profoundly disappointed in the conduct of the students who violated public health guidance and will pursue disciplinary action as appropriate.”

But the chair of the university’s chapter of the California State Employees Union, said the university could have more strictly enforced the health guidance.

“I think [it was] somewhat unrealistic to expect that students would completely stay away from each other," said Jennifer Moran, whose union represents about 1,100 employees on the campus.

”I think they needed greater supervision and enforcement with the safety protocols. There just really wasn't enough supervision, enough staff members tasked with, or managers tasked with, walking around and talking to students who may be sitting four at a table with no masks on," she said.

One solution, said the custodian who requested anonymity, would be to give students daily reminders about masks and distancing like the custodians receive every day in work meetings.

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Employees on other campuses have also criticized Cal State’s approach to COVID-19 prevention as inconsistent. Their concerns grew after outbreaks at Cal State’s Chico and San Diego campuses a month ago.

University of California campuses require students moving into dorms to be tested for COVID. CSU does not have a similar requirement. Employees say the Cal State chancellor’s office should come up with one set of COVID-19 safety protocols for all 23 campuses in the university system. But the chancellor’s office said each campus must be free to set its own guidelines based on local conditions.

“A plan that is appropriate for Cal Maritime, which educates 900 students and utilizes a retired naval vessel as a training ship, should be different than the plan for Chico which has an enrollment of 17,000 in a college town versus Cal State Long Beach, with an enrollment of 38,000 on the border of Los Angeles and Orange counties,” chancellor’s office spokesman Mike Uhlenkamp said in an email.

Moran said her union has asked Cal State Long Beach to check the temperatures of everyone coming to campus but the university hasn’t agreed.

Jeff Cook, a Cal State Long Beach spokesman, said the university’s approach is sound. “Throughout the pandemic, we've benefited from thoughtful planning and have held the safety of our employees and students as our highest priority,” he said.

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Cook said university administrators plan to talk to the employee union about the concerns.

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