‘The pandemic is over’: what does it mean for USC?

President Biden’s comment draws USC protocols into question.

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During an interview on “60 Minutes” on September 18, President Joe Biden spurred debate when he said, “The pandemic is over.” Although Biden also added that the government is still “doing a lot of work” on COVID-19, and that, “If you notice no one’s wearing masks, everybody seems to be in pretty good shape.”

At USC, the conversation about protocols continues.

USC’s COVID-19 Resource Center currently shows a 4.56% positivity rate for students and faculty. Last semester’s peak positivity rate was 14.06%. However, scientists warn that a surge in cases will likely occur this fall.

Dr. Sarah Van Orman, chief health officer for USC Student Health, said that the rest of the fall semester will probably still have peaks. She said, “The vulnerable periods are going to be around the midterm break [in] October, and then Thanksgiving.” She added that the severity of the surge will depend on how many students travel out of the community and the infection rate of the country in general.

So far, students have had mixed responses to the university’s COVID-19 policies.

Namrata Sharma, a graduate computer science student, said “USC has a very inconsistent policy.” Sharma said that some buildings declare masks as mandatory while others do not. She also noticed that fewer people continue to wear masks, using her classroom as an example. In her 300 student class, only around 10 tend to wear masks, a drastic change from the classrooms last year where everyone was required to wear one.

Russell Rodriguez, a sophomore studying computer science games, noted that while cases have gone down, he doesn’t “know how much of that is because people aren’t reporting as much,” and would personally like people to continue wearing masks on campus.

“People seem to be getting sick a lot less,” Rodriguez said. “I’d still kind of consider it to be the tail end, which is why I’m still wearing a mask right now just to be safe.”

California recently dropped its weekly testing mandate for unvaccinated workers in non-high risk settings including schools, healthcare facilities and other collective areas, according to the California Department of General Services.

Similar to the mask policy, USC states, “The university’s decisions are aligned with the current conditions for Los Angeles County.” The school’s current COVID-19 Vaccination Program policy requires all unvaccinated people to test every 72 hours.

Dr. Van Orman said the university will not rescind its current policy for unvaccinated students and staff; however, vaccination will remain “strongly encouraged but not enforced.”

Nationally, there are still over 400 COVID-related deaths occurring daily. On USC’s campus, there were 47 new cases during the week of September 11. Despite regulations winding down, positive cases still remain a present issue at USC and across the country.