Coronavirus cases rise, positivity rate decreases as students return to campus

Photo of the Keck School of Medicine, a tall gray building with a banner reading “Keck School of Medicine of USC.” There are smaller buildings to the left and the right and the sky is blue.
The rise in coronavirus cases coincides with a declining positivity rate and increased population testing. (Daily Trojan file photo)

Coronavirus cases increased slightly and positivity rates decreased as students returned to campus, Chief Health Officer Dr. Sarah Van Orman said in a student media briefing Thursday. The decreased rate coincides with increased population testing, mandated by USC once a week for vaccinated students and twice a week for unvaccinated students.

Of the 10,000 administered tests to USC’s student population from Aug. 15 to Aug. 18,  42 tested positive. The week before, 44 cases appeared from the more than 6,000 tests. 

“[The testing numbers are] actually a really good thing from a public health standpoint,” Van Orman said. “We’re catching cases, but we’re not seeing a rapid increase in positivity. And we want to find those cases before school [begins].”

The University’s coronavirus case models — created by Professor of Population and Public Health Sciences David V. Conti — suggest that the “peak of cases will be about 14 days after people return,” when there could be 40 to 50 cases a day, Van Orman said. The maximum number of students in isolation will take place about one month into the semester before numbers are expected to drop. 

If the model proves accurate, USC may easecurrent precautions such as weekly testing, Van Orman said. 

“We think about it as these layers of protection,” shesaid. “As cases drop, we hope we can kind of peel those back.”

As part of Trojan Check compliance to enter campus by the start of classes Monday, the University previously required the completion of the “Hygiene Health and Safety” module and a negative coronavirus test  However, in an email to students Friday, Van Orman announced the deadline’s extension until Friday, Aug. 27.

Students, faculty and staff vaccination numbers also rose slightly: more than 92% of both undergraduate and graduate domestic students — which include students who are U.S. residents and those who are undocumented — 90% for both faculty and staff, 80% of international graduate students and 70% of international undergraduate students are fully vaccinated, Vaccination numbers for the international student population are expected to increase as they continue arriving to the United States.

According to Van Orman, more than six percent of students, faculty and staff are in the process of being fully vaccinated, with 1.3%  approved for a medical or religious exemption and 3.3% who lack compliance with the policy — unvaccinated people without an exemption. Non-compliant students   will be unable to access campus and have holds on their registrations; non-compliant faculty and staff will be restricted from campus access and have been contacted by the University. 

Van Orman confirmed that coronavirus cases have taken place in USC housing, an “expected” development as nearly 10,000 students moved in over the past week. Students living in USC housing who test positive  will be quarantined in the USC Hotel;students who test positive outside of University affiliated housing will also have the option to quarantine at the hotel. 

If a fully vaccinated student’s roommate tests positive, the student is expected to complete a “modified quarantine,” Van Orman said, where the student may go to class but is expected to “be cautious” such as by eating takeout, avoiding gatherings and wearing their mask.

“We want people to be able to continue to go to class and do those things but, just in the event there were to be exposure, to be a little extra cautious,” Van Orman said.