Rules for USC’s return to campus
The emergence and subsequently record-breaking spread of the Omicron variant has brought a range of updated policies at USC, ranging from a delayed start of in-person classes to new booster shot requirements. To help you keep up with and understand the newest coronavirus protocols, we’ve compiled the most current University-announced policies and guidelines.
Return to in-person instruction
In a communitywide email sent Jan. 7, Provost Charles Zukowsi announced that classes will continue to be held remotely for an additional four days, delaying the start of in-person instruction from Jan. 18 to Jan. 24. The change, the email read, is meant to provide more time for students, staff and faculty to receive booster shots, arrange testing and recover from possible illnesses. Students enrolled in graduate and professional programs should expect guidance from their individual schools for program-specific exceptions or plans.
In a student media briefing with the Daily Trojan on Jan. 3, Chief Health Officer Dr. Sarah Van Orman said decisions to extend remote instruction would be driven by “local county conditions” and “staff and faculty cases.”
President Carol Folt wrote that while the semester is off to a remote start, the University will transition to in-person instruction “later this month,” according to her Jan. 11 communitywide email titled “Spring Start Welcome.”
Booster shots are required for all students, faculty and staff as soon as they become eligible. Community members who are eligible should arrange to receive boosters before returning to campus.
The period of eligibility for those who received the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines for their first series has been shortened, and they may receive their booster shots five months after their second shot. Individuals vaccinated with the single dose Johnson & Johnson may get their booster shot two months after their first jab. Proof must be uploaded to MySHR by Jan. 31 to avoid facing restrictions regarding campus access.
Student Health highly recommends mRNA vaccines as boosters, especially Pfizer, regardless of the first series vaccine received. Unvaccinated community members with previously obtained medical or religious exemptions may be exempt from the booster requirement and must submit a coronavirus test through the University’s population testing program every 72 hours.
As of Jan. 3, 25% of faculty, staff and graduate students have gotten their boosters, and about 23% of undergraduates have gotten theirs, according to Dr. Van Orman.
Residence halls and campus housing reopened, as scheduled, on Jan. 6. Students moving in as new residents need to show proof of a negative coronavirus test. A positive test collected 10 to 90 days prior to move-in satisfies the testing requirement, as well.
The Jan. 7 email from the Office of the Provost notes that while housing is open and available for those who need it, students are encouraged to delay their return to campus during the period of remote instruction. Any students who test positive less than 10 days prior to moving in should delay their return to USC Housing and report their positive result to Student Health.
The no-guest policy has been reinstated for the beginning of the spring semester, as announced in a Dec. 29 email from USC Housing. Masking is required in all common spaces of housing facilities.
In a memo released on Jan. 5 titled “Updated Masking Guidance for Campus Environments,” the University announced that starting Jan. 18, all faculty, staff, students and campus visitors will be required to wear medical grade masks in all campus spaces where masks must be worn, such as indoor common spaces and classrooms. Student Health also recommends masking in crowded outdoor areas and other settings with close interpersonal contact.
In accordance with a change in guidance by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health and the L.A. County Department of Public Health, cloth masks worn without a surgical mask and other non-medical grade face coverings, including bandanas and neck gaiters, are no longer considered to provide adequate protection from the coronavirus. Medical grade masks include surgical masks and higher grade respirator masks (N95, KN95 or KF94).
Further guidance in the memo states that masks with a one-way valve are no longer acceptable either, and that wearing two medical grade masks at once is not recommended. Masks most effective at preventing the spread have a nose wire, do not gap and cover the mouth, nose and chin.
Students and visitors who do not have an approved mask may obtain one, free of charge, from any one of the Trojan Check campus entry points. Employees should contact their respective departments directly for information about obtaining surgical masks for use at work.
As was the case in the fall, weekly surveillance testing is required for all vaccinated students, while unvaccinated students with an approved exemption must test once every 72 hours. Dr. Van Orman said during the Jan. 3 media briefing that the University has the capacity to provide about 50,000 PCR tests each week this semester, compared to last semester’s average of about 35,000.
Students travelling to get to campus this spring are required to test before leaving their winter break location and are recommended to test 48 hours before leaving. Individuals who have had a recent coronavirus infection and are unable to test will need to obtain a “90 day exemption” letter from their healthcare provider.
Student Health recommends PCR tests for the most accurate detection of an infection as they amplify virus particles for greater sensitivity. At-home rapid antigen tests are effective at detecting infection in individuals with higher viral load, 48 hours or longer after exposure but less effective at detecting infection if viral load is low.
Isolation and quarantine
USC Student Health is obligated to follow guidance from the LACDPH, including rules about isolation and quarantine. LACDPH requires a five-day isolation period for those with detected coronavirus illness, which can be ended on day six if the individual no longer exhibits symptoms and tests negative on a viral test collected on or after day five.
Whether or not quarantine is required for those who have been exposed to the coronavirus depends on whether they are up to date with their coronavirus vaccines and whether they exhibit symptoms. If the exposed has received all vaccine doses that they are eligible for and are not feeling sick, they do not need to quarantine but should test immediately. If they are missing a dose, are unvaccinated or are showing symptoms, a quarantine of five days with a negative test on day five or later is required.
According to the latest statistics posted to USC’s COVID-19 Dashboard, there are currently 253 available spaces for eligible isolation and quarantine individuals. During the Jan. 3 media briefing, Dr. Van Orman said that the University has “adequate isolation capacity” and, if necessary, will provide spaces in the USC Hotel, another hotel in Downtown L.A. and one other facility that she said she couldn’t share details about.
Correction: A previous version of this article wrongly abbreviated the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health as LADPH, rather than LACDPH. The Daily Trojan regrets this error.