Students who are updated on their vaccinations and booster shot will no longer be required to test on a weekly basis from March 1, according to an email sent on Friday morning to the student body by Sarah Van Orman, the Chief Health Officer for USC Student Health.
Unvaccinated people will still be required to test every 72 hours and people who are not up to date with their vaccinations every 4 days.
The email announcement mentioned that testing provisions will be available for everyone on campus, including students, faculty and staff. It encouraged testing for those experiencing symptoms and who plan on traveling or engaging in any activities which might expose them to the virus. Moreover, no reservations will be needed to access gyms at USC Village, Lyon Center and the HSC Fitness Center. Guests will also be allowed in campus residential housing.
According to a statement by the university, the requirements and contact tracing for those who test positive will not change. They also mentioned that the new modifications are the first phase toward the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions and are subject to revisions based on LADPH Health Officer Orders.
Van Orman said there has been “good improvement in cases here” during this week’s briefing. As of last week, there have been 471 student cases and 15 new employee cases. Van Orman said she wants to “reassure” the USC community that it would be safe to remove mask mandates when numbers are low.
“We are such a highly vaccinated and boosted community and we have good air quality and people can choose to wear a protective mask if they want,” Van Orman said. “We anticipate that the outdoor masking requirement for mega events and schools will be dropped sometime next week.”
The notice comes as a result of the low rate of COVID-19 cases on campus, which has dropped to around 1.3% for students and 0.87% for USC employees. According to USC News, during the peak week of Jan. 8, more than 2,100 students and 346 employees were positive. When the Omicron variant was first confirmed on campus on Dec. 6, the number of positive cases jumped from 1% to almost 10% within two weeks.
On Feb. 16, LA County removed restrictions on outdoor masking, and USC followed suit with respect to university-sponsored events. The email reiterated that masking is still required indoors and at health care facilities.
The new protocols have garnered varied reactions from students. While some argue that the timing is not right, considering the recent peak in the number of COVID-19 positive cases owing to the Omicron variant, others are relieved to be free of the weekly testing.
“The timing is interesting,” said Michael Steele, a freshman studying arts, technology and business at the Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy. “This might not be the best way to deal with cases as students can still test positive even after being fully vaccinated and boosted.”
Alissa Bowen, a freshman studying philosophy, politics and law at the Dornsife school, echoed Steele’s thoughts.
“The curve has not gotten down yet and Omicron is spreading easily, while even vaccinated people are still getting it” she said. “So now would not be the best time.”
On the other hand, some students have welcomed the new update, saying it would release them from the pressure of scheduling appointments.
“If you are diligent with wearing masks, then I do not see a problem with this update,” said Lauren Smith, a junior studying Biology at Dornsife. “If I am having a busy week, it would save me the hassle of getting tested when I am trying to get to class.”
Pin Wang, a professor of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science and Biomedical Engineering, with emphasis on “immunobioengineering” at USC Viterbi, lent support to the content of the email.
“The case numbers are low significantly. There is evidence that transmission is under control,” Wang said. “The state of California has loosened restrictions and made plans to live with the virus as well.”
The notice listed the places on campus and the retail sites where students who have not been boosted yet, can get a booster shot. As of Feb. 14, 2022, USC completed one million tests on campus after two years, an initiative which started on Feb. 23, 2022.