On Feb. 24, USC and the L.A. County Department of Public Health reported two active cases of the U.K. COVID-19 variant in students and are investigating two other cases that may be linked to this strain of the virus.
USC joins seven other schools, including only one other in California, on a New York Times list of universities that have identified the U.K. variant in the U.S. All four of the cases with this new variant were detected by USC’s testing program. The patients are reported to be doing well and isolating.
Some students are frustrated with the lack of communication from the university about this new development. USC did not notify students by email about the identification of this variant on campus.
Alyssa Delarosa, a junior majoring in psychology, said first heard about it from the L.A. Times.
“I was really disappointed that I had to hear about this from an outside source that wasn’t USC, that wasn’t my school,” Delarosa said. She was unaware of any response from the school and said she would not return to campus any time soon if in-person classes opened.
Other students are less concerned. Josh Russell, a freshman business major, said the new variants do not particularly worry him. “As long as I follow the CDC guidelines that’s all I can really do,” Russell said.
During a press briefing on Feb. 25 about these new cases at USC, Chief Health Officer Dr. Sarah Van Orman told Annenberg Media the focus is on “continuing aggressive mitigation efforts to try to prevent additional cases with the variant.”
Van Orman also discussed USC’s plans to reopen campus, and said she is not concerned about the new variant disrupting those plans. Van Orman attributed this to the school’s “robust” testing plans to ensure that people participating in events will not be at risk. Certain events that will be allowed to take place on campus in the coming months will continue under strict safety protocols.
“There is a very rigorous set of procedures around any of the things that we’re going to be doing,” Van Orman explained. “Even if someone were to be infectious, their risk of spreading [the virus] to other people is really minimal.”
Van Orman said she is comfortable with reopening in-person classes and that it is much more likely that students spread the virus at off-campus social gatherings than in a classroom setting.
Van Orman recommends students avoid social gatherings and ensure they have effective facial coverings, particularly double masks. “If it’s a facial covering that allows you to get good airflow, it doesn’t really block things, It’s probably not a very good facial covering,” she said.
Vaccination efforts in California have ramped up, with 14.5% of the state’s population vaccinated as of publishing according to the Los Angeles Times.
Some students, like junior economics major Theo Rankin, are already vaccinated and ready to come back to campus.
“Even if it’s easier to spread or whatever, I’m not terribly worried about it... and I have the vaccine, so I’m really not worried about it,” Rankin said.
This new variant of the virus is believed to be more transmissible than other strains, as it has spread rapidly. As of now, there is no evidence to suggest that this variant is associated with increased severity of the disease, but that currently available vaccines are still effective against it.