With the announcement of 20,000 additional COVID-19 tests in Los Angeles County on Monday, testing may become more accessible and frequent. Some students have already been tested and were willing to share their experiences of the process with Annenberg Media.
In the past weeks, dozens of USC members were tested at USC and elsewhere, Chief Health Officer Sarah Van Orman said in her email to the USC community on March 22. Van Orman did not share how many USC members have tested positive, but she wrote that “all of the presumed positive cases of USC students, at this point in time, are related to return from international travel.” In the email, Van Orman acknowledged increasing community spread and again emphasized the importance of social distancing measures.
In another email to the USC community Wednesday, Van Orman stated that “cases have been identified involving students that are related to return from international travel, some from organized study abroad programs in Europe and others from personal travel to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.”
She adds that all cases have been contact traced and people who may have had a close contact exposure have been individually notified and provided instructions.
“No individuals have accessed public campus locations within their infectious period,” Van Orman wrote.
Annenberg Media has spoken to four students who tested for COVID-19. Two were tested at the USC Engemann Student Health Center, and two were tested elsewhere. Among the four students we interviewed, one tested positive and three are waiting for their results.
A USC student who returned last week from a study-abroad semester in Paris learned that her testing result came back positive Monday, March 23. The student wished to remain anonymous for her medical privacy and fear of backlash from the positive test. Annenberg Media honors the request, per our ethics guideline.
On March 14, the eve before she was to return to L.A., she began to show symptoms including a runny nose and a cough.
“Now I'm starting to get scared because, all of a sudden, I have this really, really dry bad cough that got really bad out of nowhere,” she recounted in a phone interview from her self-quarantine in the USC Hotel.
On her flight back, another American — a student from the University of Michigan — sat in her row. This student had been sent home from her program in Spain. The student from Spain was the sicker of the two. Although there was a sense of levity in their conversation, both were fearful they had been infected.
She said that the student from the University of Michigan remarked, “I feel like I’m probably on the lowkey, like, have it.”
“Girl,” the student from USC responded, “ I developed a cough like honestly, I’m scared too.”
The USC student landed at LAX and phoned the university hotline. After being tossed from operator to operator, she explained to the university her symptoms and expressed her inability to safely quarantine herself in her family’s apartment. Eventually, she was told that a room was being set up for her at the USC Hotel.
“Hang in a few minutes,” She recounted that the voice on the other line urged. “We’ll let you know when it’s ready.”
After spending a short night in a room on the 6th floor of the USC Hotel, the student was tested on March 16. The university did not provide her with a test in her hotel room but instead directed her to travel from the USC Hotel to the testing center outside of the Engemann Student Health Center, about a 0.8-mile walk.
For the student, this trip was a no-brainer. “I mean, I had no other option,” she recounted over the phone.
A USC Student Health spokesperson told Annenberg Media via a phone call that the sentence-“no individuals have accessed public campus locations within their infectious period”-in Van Orman’s email refers to campus facilities and buildings with open access. It’s not talking about public spaces like roads or sidewalks.
The spokesperson adds that the definition of close contact exposure is staying “ten minutes or longer within six feet” with infected people.
After a long cotton swab was inserted and held in her nostril for 15 seconds, the student was told her results would be available within three to five days. However, despite repeated phone calls from the student, she did not receive her results until this Monday morning, a full week after her test.
A USC doctor told the student an hour after she received her results that the student could depart the hotel this Wednesday, March 25, less than two full weeks after she began showing symptoms.
“Based on the timeline, you would be good by Wednesday,” the student recounted what the doctor told her.
When the student asked how she would know she would be safe to leave her quarantine, the doctor advised, “when your symptoms are fully gone.”
Out of an abundance of caution, the student says she will remain at the USC Hotel until this coming Sunday, March 29.
According to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people with COVID-19 who are in home isolation may not necessarily have a test to determine if they are still contagious. The decision to stop home isolation should be made in consultation with their healthcare provider and state and local health departments. They can discontinue home isolation under the following conditions provided by the CDC:
The USC Student Health spokesperson confirmed to Annenberg Media that they are following the CDC guidelines above.
One USC senior went to Cabo San Lucas for spring break and was tested for COVID-19 on Saturday, March 21, at the Engemann Health Center. She is waiting for her result. The student was granted anonymity for medical privacy, per Annenberg Media’s ethics guideline. She said her result could be positive due to her proximity to another person on the trip who tested positive.
The student returned to her off-campus apartment last Tuesday, March 17, with a sore throat and a stuffy nose. At first, she didn’t think anything of her general cold-like symptoms. But the next day, she got a message from a friend on the trip who tested positive for COVID-19.
“Everything social on the trip we did together, and we were in close quarters. I was at risk because of close contact with the person,” the student told Annenberg Media via a phone call interview. For these reasons, she decided to get tested for COVID-19.
First, the student booked a consultation appointment online and was asked a series of questions about her symptoms and whether or not she had any pre-existing health conditions.
The student is also asthmatic, another reason she is at risk.
“I don’t suffer from terrible asthma anymore, and it doesn’t affect me much as it did when I was younger, but it does cause concerns when it comes to coronavirus because my body would likely be slightly more compromised if I were to become infected,” the USC senior later wrote in an email to Annenberg Media.
Next, the student had a TeleHealth call with a doctor from USC Student Health to determine whether or not her symptoms were consistent with COVID-19.
After the doctor confirmed the student should get tested, she was able to walk from her off-campus apartment over to the tents set up outside of the health center and get tested.
She then gave the doctors, who were dressed in protective medical gear, her student ID. A nurse explained to the student that the swabbing would be a little uncomfortable and only take a few seconds. The entire process was free and took about 10-15 seconds, according to the student.
Since Saturday, many of the student’s friends who were also on the trip have tried to get tested for the virus at USC. Although the student felt the process was “pretty lenient,” some of her friends are unable to get tested now.
The USC Student Health spokesperson told Annenberg Media that per the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health guidelines, the testing at Student Health is given to people who have symptoms. The spokesperson said these students back from Cabo San Lucas were returning from personal travel, which is different from organized study abroad programs in Europe. The main difference she said is that students are registered with the university for studying abroad programs.
Van Orman’s Wednesday email also said that “in Los Angeles, availability and criteria for COVID-19 testing may change as we receive guidance from public health officials in this rapidly evolving health care environment.”
On March 20, Los Angeles County health officials advised doctors to test patients only if a positive result could change how they would be treated.
This week, Los Angles City announced that COVID-19 tests are “strictly limited to residents of Los Angeles who are in the most high-risk categories and most vulnerable.” Individuals eligible for testing at this time include people with symptoms who are 65 and older, people with symptoms who have underlying chronic health conditions and people who are subject to a mandatory 14 day quarantine period due to a confirmed COVID-19 exposure (with more than 7 days of quarantine remaining).
USC football player and Annenberg Media reporter Trevor Trout was tested in St. Louis, Missouri. Trout came in contact with NBA player Kevin Durant on March 10, seven days before Durant tested positive for the virus. Trout was already home in St. Louis when he heard the news.
Trout took action right away.
“My mother and I first called the Missouri Department of Public Health. There was a COVID-19 hotline that directed us to a nurse at Mercy Hospital, and they will ask you if you have any symptoms,” Trout said. “It almost guarantees you a test if you were in direct contact with a carrier. That was the case for me, and they tested me the next day at 3:20 p.m.”
Trout touched on the severity of his experience.
“Arriving at the testing area is a sight to behold. It seems like something out of a Drama [or] Sci-Fi film.”
He compared his experience to a drive-thru.
“You arrive at the testing site, and they ask you if you have an appointment. The problem is that some people who are arriving don’t have one,” he said. “But in the heat of the pandemic, people are feeling entitled to a test. Citizens will try to argue their way into getting a test. They will idle until they can find someone who will test them.”
Because Trout had an appointment, he was tested fairly quickly and will receive the results later this week.
According to the CDC, state and local health departments and individual clinicians are responsible for deciding who should be tested. Supplies of these tests are increasing, but it may still be difficult to find a place to get tested.
USC junior and health and wellness editor Jen Adams was tested on March 23 in Honolulu after she began to show symptoms about a week after flying out of Los Angeles. She is currently waiting for her result.
Adams reported having mild chest pains and a fever. She then called her doctor where she was asked to come into a hospital for a coronavirus testing.
Upon arriving at the hospital, Adams was asked to stay in her car with the car door open while her mother went inside and filled out paperwork.
The doctor approached her from outside and took her temperature and checked her breathing. The doctor then collected swabs from the deep parts of her mouth and nose. Adams was diagnosed with Bronchitis and was prescribed anti-inflammatory medication for the time being. She was told she would receive her results in 2-10 days.
USC Student Health is asking USC members who are waiting to be tested or waiting for their test results to practice strict self-isolation.
Annenberg Media reached out to Van Orman on Sunday for the number of positive cases related to USC members, we have not received a response.
As of March 25, there are 799 laboratory confirmed cases and 13 deaths in Los Angeles County, including Long Beach and Pasadena.
Reports of confirmed cases in the University Park community, which contains the university’s UPC campus and its northern neighborhood, increased from one to four between March 24 and March 25, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
USC advises persons who may have concerns, questions, or are notifying the university about a positive test, to call the COVID-19 Hotline: 213-740-6291. Additional answers to questions on what to do next are available on the COVID-19 website.
Here’s a guide of what to do provided by the CDC for people who tested positive for COVID-19.
On March 20, Van Orman said in a press briefing via Zoom that USC healthcare facilities had a huge shortage of personal protective equipment, “at a crisis level.”
In the March 25 email, she wrote that USC Keck Medicine have created a drive for equipment donations, and Student Health’s Engemann location will serve as a donation point for any personal protective equipment (PPEs, including N95 masks) that can be sent to the Health Sciences Campus.