USC plans to return to normal campus capacity in the fall

As vaccinations and reopenings increase, so does the likelihood of a return to normalcy on campus.

As California continues to reopen, USC plans to return to “normal” campus capacity and operations in the fall and align its expected policies with those of the state, with the exception of vaccination incentives, according to USC’s Chief Health Officer Dr. Sarah Van Orman.

The state of California is offering vaccination incentives, such as cash prizes given out to random vaccinated California residents. USC wants student health to be a priority, but does not plan on incentivizing students to get vaccines. The school does not want to exclude certain students and staff from perks or activities, noting that some people may not be able to get inoculated for various reasons.

“Sometimes [there] are barriers around access, like [people] just can’t get the time off work or it’s too hard to get to a vaccine site or they have transportation issues… we as an institution don’t want to necessarily say, we’re going to give something to people who have been vaccinated, but if you just can’t be vaccinated for medical or religious reasons, you don’t get this,” Dr. Van Orman told Annenberg Media on May 28.

Other elite universities such as UCLA are requiring students to be vaccinated once the vaccine has full approval by the FDA. USC, a much smaller campus and student population, will allow vaccinated and unvaccinated students alike to share its campus and classrooms, according to Dr. Van Orman.

Students may decline vaccination without a specified reason and will be allowed to return to campus and engage in regular campus activities and events, provided they fill out a vaccine declination form and undergo surveillance testing.

The testing would occur twice a week for undergraduate students and once a week for graduate students. USC has been using the Trojan Check system, which offered several services for the university community in the wake of the pandemic, so it can be expected to have use for the next semester.

However, in order to live in university housing, unvaccinated students must go through a formal exemption process, designed for students who cannot receive the vaccine for “narrowly defined” medical or religious purposes, which will be determined on a case by case basis. These students will be required to live in single rooms, according to Dr. Van Orman. “To put someone who’s vaccinated and [someone who’s] unvaccinated together in a shared sleeping space is not tenable,” she said.

University housing will not convert rooms intended for multiple students into singles. Single rooms are limited in availability and are often reserved for students with disabilities or other medical issues, so USC housing hopes to minimize the amount of rooms that will be occupied by unvaccinated students and maximize the amount of students who can live in university housing, with freshmen and rising sophomores being a priority.

All health and safety guidelines for housing will follow those set by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, and new guidelines are expected as soon as next week, according to Chris Ponsiglione, Director of Housing at USC.

Masking and social distancing on campus will be dependent on the Cal/OSHA workplace safety recommendations, which are expected to be updated sometime in the near future. As of the last update on May 6, “the University is currently maintaining a work and academic environment that adheres to the 6 ft. physical distancing, low workplace density, and masking requirements. On-campus events, activities, and in-person work continues to be limited to activities previously approved through the restart process.”

It will be interesting to see how these measures are implemented as students, staff and faculty are entitled to their privacy and cannot be asked whether they are vaccinated or not. Supervisors can only encourage people to upload their vaccination record or declination form.

The university will continue to offer vaccinations each week into the fall semester as the return of students is likely to increase demand. Dr. Van Orman says USC will even start to include more personalized approaches for those who might have questions about the vaccine with student health teams and town halls.

USC offers vaccines for current students and employees age 16 and over. All vaccines are administered free of charge at the Lyon Center on the University Park Campus, and appointments may be booked through the USC Student Health portal, or mySHR.

President Biden recently spoke on vaccination expectations for the country and points to 70% immunization as the target to, “declare our independence from COVID-19.”

USC is expected to participate in this goal through the #COVIDCollegeChallenge, according to USC Student Health. The White House says younger Americans are falling behind in vaccination numbers and through their “Three Key Commitments,” they hope to incentivize college students. These commitments include engaging all members of campus, organizing the community and delivering vaccine access to all.

While vague, the challenge allows for universities across the country — including USC — to associate their name with an official vaccination initiative. The challenge badge appears on the main USC website and Student Health says it will roll out through June. Since USC is not mandating vaccinations for the fall semester, it’s unclear how else they plan to contribute to the challenge besides the measures they’ve already put in place.

The state of California stands at around 45% of the population inoculated with nearly 18 million people fully vaccinated. Los Angeles County stands at 54% vaccinated with around four and a half million people fully vaccinated.