This fall, as colleges around the country wrestled with how to reopen amid the coronavirus crisis, officials in California required a cautious approach. Classes were put online, isolation rooms were set up on campus, and restrictions were placed on the number of students permitted to live in dormitories or come on campus.

But what deans and provosts couldn’t control were the thousands of students who returned to fill apartments and houses in neighborhoods surrounding their schools, determined to salvage some semblance of a college experience.

Unchecked by campus rules and safeguards, these students became fertile ground for the virus, which has spread rapidly on and around several California campuses despite sparsely populated dormitories and classrooms. From San Diego to Chico, the outbreaks have thrown universities into crisis mode as they scramble to slow the virus’ spread with tighter restrictions and attempts to cajole students into safer behavior.

With so many students living in close quarters and often pressing ahead with parties and other gatherings that disregard social distancing guidelines, some experts said school officials’ hopes of keeping the virus at bay with remote learning were unrealistic.

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By Kelley Wheeler

Kelley Wheeler is a Metro reporter covering political issues and general assignments. A second-generation journalist, worked with all major news outlet, she holds a vast expeirience. Kelley is a graduate of USC with degrees in journalism and English literature. She is a recipient of Yale’s Poynter Fellowship in Journalism.

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