Junior Hannah Geller loved running into people while she walked to class. Now, since the COVID-19 pandemic emptied campus, there’s an unsettling stillness to her once busy life.
“It’s kind of depressing, honestly,” said Geller, a theater and journalism double major. “It’s a ghost town.”
Since July, when the university announced school would be completely remote, students on campus have been forced to adjust to a new normal. To prevent exposure, residents are at half-capacity, and dining halls only serve wrapped meals. Even so, the cases continue. As of Aug. 22, the USC Health Center completed 4,241 tests with a 5.2% and 4.5% positive rate among students and employees, respectively. Dr. Sarah Van Orman, Chief Health Officer for USC Student Health, told the Los Angeles Times that there were 147 total coronavirus cases on the week of Aug. 23.
Sophomore Gigi Gutierrez, a communication major, recently tested positive for the coronavirus after being exposed at her work, an immigration law firm in Los Angeles. She and her roommates are prioritizing “the safest ways to go about things,” such as getting tested weekly through USC. They’re also communicating openly with the people they have been in contact with so that they can do the same.
However, many people aren’t taking the same precautions as Gutierrez and her roommates. Geller said that it was alarming to see “most people” not following the health guidelines USC put into place. Some of these rules, according to USC’s Health and Hygiene Protocols, include taking daily wellness assessments before coming to campus, wearing masks in public spaces, and social distancing.
“It’s also hard when you realize the impact that it’s having on the community and everyone here,” she said. “I think the guidelines are important, and I think they shouldn’t be that hard to follow. I definitely see a gap or a difference in who’s following and who’s not.”
Communal living spaces for students such as apartment complexes make it harder for students to comply with social distancing guidelines, Gutierrez said.
“It’s a little harder just because you hear people having parties, using a lot of the same facilities, and touching a lot of the same, like the elevators and stuff,” she said. “If you live in a house, you definitely are a little bit more spread out.”
Sophomore Matt Bodine, a political science and intelligence and cyber operations double major, shared what his fraternity, Pi Kappa Alpha, does to foster safer conditions. Residents of the house pick up meals in to-go boxes and eat in their rooms. They are the only ones who have access to the door code, and they also have a home gym. So far, no one in the house has tested positive.
“There aren’t as many people on [the Row] as we think right now, which is a good thing,” said Bodine.
These kinds of changes are slowly becoming the new normal on and around campus, as students continue to find ways to make the best of their current circumstances.
“I know other people... [are] having those socially distant gatherings or really trying to do different activities like going for walks,” Gutierrez said. “[It’s] something that keeps their mind kind of off the big situation at hand.”