Fall break poses potential COVID-19 threat due to student travel

Even though travelling over fall break isn’t explicitly discouraged this year, USC health officials suggest staying vigilant

As fall break approaches, some USC students are winding down from classes and midterms with travel plans to visit their family, friends or to just vacation. But with the lingering concern of COVID-19 transmission, USC health officials are worried about the possibility of an uptick in cases.

Chief Student Health Officer Dr. Sarah Van Orman encouraged those who are travelling to test for COVID-19 before they leave USC, and after they return.

“Just a reminder to folks that if they do travel over this break, to make sure that they’re testing before and after travel,” Dr. Van Orman said. “Because we know that the community rates are much higher in certain parts of the country, so just be aware of what the COVID rates are for where you’re going.”

The COVID-19 testing positivity rate in Los Angeles County is currently 0.99%, per data from LA County Public Health, lower than many popular travel destinations across the country. According to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, states such as Hawaii (3.5%), New York (2.5%), Florida (4.5%) and Texas (6%) all have higher positivity rates as of this past week.

Students are conscious of the concerns surrounding COVID-19, but not to the point of changing their travel plans.

“I personally feel comfortable taking a trip with friends who are fully vaccinated and tested negative this week,” said junior Seeran Ajemian, who is traveling to northern California over break with a group of friends. “I think it is important for me to do this because I want to still make memories with my friends while being safe and healthy.”

USC is not recommending against traveling or instituting stricter policies for testing due to the potential uptick in COVID-19 cases. This marks a change from the previous school year, when fall and spring breaks were cancelled to prevent travel, and multiple announcements to the USC community explicitly discouraged leaving the Los Angeles area.

The university is relying on its existing protocols, such as vaccination requirements and weekly coronavirus testing, to keep the transmission rates low.

“People are required to test weekly anyway,” Dr. Van Orman said. “We just want to remind people of the risks associated with travel. And particularly if you have traveled, or you’ve gotten into a higher risk environment, that you’re cautious when you get back and get tested.” She reminds students to be vigilant, wear a mask and to be aware of any symptoms.

For those travelling long distances, the CDC has set guidelines for domestic travel, including a mask requirement on public transit, regardless of vaccination status.

Junior Ygor Pereira, who is flying to New York to spend time with his family, feels safe as long as these guidelines are followed.

“My whole family is vaccinated and we’ll be following CDC guidelines so I’m not concerned because I believe in the vaccine,” Pereira said.

Junior Hamzeh Alturk is going to Miami over the short break.

“I’m vaccinated and I tested negative,” he said. “Especially with the regular testing I’m feeling good about it.”

Dr. Van Orman said it’s “hard to know what to expect” in terms of an uptick in coronavirus transmission after students return from fall break, but remains encouraged by current statistics.

“So far, our numbers are continuing to look very good and we think that it has a lot to do with vaccination levels,” Dr. Van Orman said.