The Keck School of Medicine will begin administering PCR surveillance testing in addition to symptomatic testing on Monday and transition from using the testing company Color, Dr. Sarah Van Orman announced in an email Friday. A new off-campus testing site at The Lab by the USC Hotel will also be offered beginning Monday in addition to sites located by the Engemann Health Center, Pardee Lawn and at the Health Sciences Campus.
The change comes following Keck’s increased capacity to offer both self-service exposed and surveillance testing as well as a desire to streamline result information, Van Orman said during a student media briefing Thursday. Appointments for both tests can be made online through the mySHR portal to make it more accessible for students and reduce barriers. Coronavirus tests will now be through saliva collection, with anterior nasal swab collection to be added in the next few weeks.
Forty-six students and 28 employees tested positive for the coronavirus from Dec. 27 to Jan. 2, according to USC’s COVID-19 Dashboard, and symptomatic positivity rates spiked to 15.6%, Van Orman confirmed in the media briefing. The rise in cases is likely a result of the holiday season and will likely continue to rise as students return to the area, Van Orman said.
“We’re especially concerned because [of] the nature of what a university is,” Van Orman said. “We had a break, and that we know we had people who, because of the break, are sort of inclined to leave and then come back, we’re particularly concerned about what’s going to happen here in the next couple of weeks.”
Van Orman reiterated that students should delay their return to Los Angeles as much as possible.
“What’s happening in the USC community is what’s happening in Los Angeles — that there is widespread community transmission, there is huge amounts of infection right now,” Van Orman said. “People really need to assume that wherever they’re going, whoever they’re interacting with, those individuals probably are infected.”
As of Jan. 7, there were 19,719 new cases, 218 and 8,098 current hospitalizations according to L.A. Public Health.
For those returning to campus this semester, students and employees must complete the “Health, Hygiene and Safety” module through Trojan Learn to access Trojan Check. Undergraduate students will be required to test twice weekly for the coronavirus while graduate students, faculty and staff only need to be tested once weekly. An influenza vaccination will also be required and, through Trojan Check, campus visitors must complete a daily symptom check prior to entering.
“The testing sites will also link your test to your Trojan Check,” Van Orman said. “If you’re out of compliance with your weekly tests, you’re not going to be able to get onto campus with your Trojan Check. We’ve built what we think of as a compliance feature to really require people to get their testing done.”
The increase in positive cases among employees should also remind those that do return to quarantine for ten days as mandated by L.A. County, Van Orman said.
“The cases, unfortunately, we see in our employees are the people that have to be here. They’re our security, they’re facilities,” Van Orman said. “For those people’s sake that have to come to work, everything that we can all do as a community is really critical.”
USC will continue to administer the vaccine to designated persons in the Phase 1A group, which includes both student and faculty healthcare workers, and will open a vaccination center at the Lyon Center Monday, Van Orman said. Although unsure of the exact timeline for the next phase of vaccinations, Van Orman approximated 8,000 to 9,000 people in the 1A group. As of Jan. 5, more than 4,000 vaccinations had been administered, according to a previous Van Orman email.
The University must wait until they receive permission from L.A. County to proceed to group 1B which will include essential on-campus workers and those over the age of 75.
“Campus is preparing, our health sites are preparing, we are vaccinating actively,” Van Orman said. “We just don’t know when vaccines will reach the more general population.”