Spring semester COVID-19 protocols still uncertain

Dr. Sarah Van Orman says that spring COVID-19 plans depend on what students do now

As the spring semester approaches, students question whether the USC COVID-19 protocols will be adjusted. Though there are no set changes as of now, Chief Health Officer Dr. Sarah Van Orman stressed that the future of COVID-related restrictions on campus largely depends on students’ actions.

“We’re pushing boosters right now. If our cases stay low moving into spring, we of course want to be able to drop that indoor masking that is more driven by Los Angeles County,” Van Orman said. “As we’ve talked about, we would love to be able to stop surveillance testing.”

However, since the beginning of November, positivity rates have been increasing. The positivity rate the week of Nov. 8 was 0.3%, increasing from 0.23% the week prior, Van Orman said Tuesday. There were 88 positive student cases last week, a number that hasn’t been seen since September.

Van Orman added that surveillance testing is “a lot of work for the students.” Some students have begun to feel exhaustion setting in as the two year marker of the pandemic approaches.

“We’ve been in the pandemic for a long time. I’m getting tired of it,” freshman journalism major Jack Hallian said about the COVID-19 protocols. “But for health and safety, then that is what it is.”

Since USC students returned to in-person classes in August, they have been required to test weekly if they are vaccinated and bi-weekly if they are unvaccinated. Regardless of COVID-19 vaccination and testing status, mask wearing is required indoors. Students are also required to obtain a flu vaccine.

“I think they are all very preventive measures. I think it’s important,” said Minette Tshisens, a sophomore human biology major. “Next year, I think it’s just going to depend on how the county is doing with the COVID population.”

Alyson Miura, a junior studying health and human sciences, echoed Van Orman’s sentiment about continuing COVID-19 precautions.

“I think we should still wear masks and keep testing,” Miura said. “We’re all college students who go out and party a lot, so it’s probably just for the best. It’s for everyone’s health sake that we wear masks.”

The upcoming Thanksgiving break poses an additional threat to low positivity rates, according to Van Orman, as students will travel to and from USC.

“We are concerned that people may come back from travel over Thanksgiving and be more likely to be infected. We are really pushing people who travel to test before, test after, make sure that you don’t travel if you’re experiencing any symptoms at all,” Van Orman said. “Over the next few weeks, we’re really encouraging people who had more than six months passed since the Moderna or their Pfizer [vaccine] to actually get a booster.”

Booster shots are available at the Lyon Center for those who book an appointment via the USC Pharmacy website.

Nike Falade contributed to this report.

This story was updated on Nov. 17th to add a contributor’s name.