Social media-fueled coronavirus rumor at USC prompts response from school

The University of Southern California (USC) was forced to respond following an erroneous social media-fueled claim that a student was diagnosed with the novel coronavirus that has now killed some 132 people and sickened nearly 6,000 others across the world.

The rumor began late Monday night in a reply to a post on the university’s Twitter account, the Los Angeles Daily News reported. The rumor quickly took hold on the social media platform, leading to hundreds of tweets and even a petition to cancel class amid the alleged “outbreak” at the university. As of this writing, nearly 11,000 people had signed the call to action.

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But USC quickly responded, shutting down rumors that seemingly cropped up after an unnamed student living at the off-campus Lorenzo Apartments was transported by ambulance to a local hospital.

Students walk and bike at the University of Southern California campus in Los Angeles. (iStock)

Students walk and bike at the University of Southern California campus in Los Angeles. (iStock)

“We want to provide information about reports that a student was transported by ambulance from off-campus housing this evening with novel coronavirus,” the statement reads. “Because of student and patient privacy laws, we are unable to talk about any specific individuals. However, we can confirm that there are no students or residents from the off-campus Lorenzo Apartments diagnosed or under evaluation for the 2019 novel coronavirus. Students can be transported by ambulance for a variety of health conditions.”

School officials reminded students that any news about coronavirus infections “occur through local public health authorities and will be communicated to the community,” and reiterated that “there is no known connection between affected individuals and USC.”

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There are currently five confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, which began at a live animal and seafood market in the Chinese city of Wuhan, in the U.S. Two of those cases have been confirmed in Southern California — one in Los Angeles County and the other in Orange County.

Despite the disease reaching the U.S., federal health officials maintain that the public’s risk is low. In the meantime, here’s how to protect yourself from coronavirus.