USC to end campuswide mask mandate

USC ended its indoor mask mandate Monday as announced by Provost and Senior Vice President of Student Affairs Charles Zukoski in a communitywide email Friday. 

Masks are no longer required in “classrooms, labs, offices, libraries, recreational facilities, dining facilities, and athletic facilities,” reversing the masking mandate put in place July 15, 2021. 

USC will continue to require masks in health facilities, at testing sites and on public transportation. 

The updated guidelines come after Los Angeles County dropped its indoor mask mandate Friday following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s L.A. County classification into the low community transmission category, a metric calculated by case counts, hospital admissions and hospital capacity. 

“We’re entering an era where, as we move from a pandemic to endemic, things [are] going to drive the need for these other measures, particularly masking … are we in a situation as a community where we would have cases that don’t exponentially increase? And, more importantly, the cases don’t overwhelm the healthcare system,” Van Orman said.

L.A. currently averages 1,636 daily positive cases, compared to the more than 40,000 at the height of the omicron peak in mid-January. At USC, both student and employee positivity rates dropped below 1% in late February, down from a semester-high of nearly 15%. 

The end of the mask mandate does not mark the end of USC coronavirus mitigation. The University will continue requiring Trojan Check — a daily symptom check survey — for all students, faculty, and staff to access campus, dining halls and gyms.

USC ended weekly testing requirements for fully vaccinated and boosted individuals March 1. Testing, currently required for unvaccinated or unboosted students, staff and faculty, remains available for anyone.

Unvaccinated community members are required to test every 72 hours; unboosted students are required to test twice weekly and unboosted staff and faculty are required to test weekly. The University also removed its “no-guest” policy in residence halls and ended the reservation system for gyms on March 1. 

Zukoski also encouraged students to pick up a take-home rapid antigen testing kit, available for free at the Lyon Center and USC Bookstore. Students are instructed to take a rapid test 24 hours before returning to campus from spring break, then test again via pop testing three to five days after returning. 

The updated policy is going into effect before spring break to make sure students are aware of the changes before returning to campus at the end of the month, Van Orman said in the media briefing. 

“We could potentially have a period of heightened risk,” Van Orman said. “As people come back to the classrooms we want to make sure everybody has time to understand what the changes are and make sure people are comfortable.”

Defne Aslan, a freshman majoring in international relations, said she will keep wearing a mask unless the majority of her classmates stop wearing one. 

“I think it’s good that we’re making progress, [and] the pandemic is becoming less of a life altering thing, but also I’m kind of confused about how a few weeks ago when we got back from break literally everyone I knew got COVID,” Aslan said. “Now there’s a lot less cases which is really good, but I’m surprised about how fast everything changed.”

Cameron Klein, a senior majoring in theatre and business administration, said he is excited for the mandate to be lifted, and especially to have a “normal” graduation.

“We should just continue to move forward with our lives and embrace the fact that we’re able to see each other’s faces,” Klein said.

Across L.A. County, colleges and universities have announced different masking guidelines. While Loyola Marymount University announced an end to its mandate Friday, California State University at Northridge previously said that they intend to require masks for the duration of the spring semester. UCLA and Caltech have yet to announce mask policy updates. 

Zukoski thanked the USC community for its support during the last two years of coronavirus mitigation measures. 

“We deeply appreciate all the acts of community support that you have shown, and the consideration you have given for all who have labored these long two years to keep our campuses safe,” Zukoski wrote in the communitywide letter. “You have our deeply felt gratitude for continuing to show kindness toward one another as we begin this transition.”

Sophie Sperber contributed to this report. 

Editor’s Note: This story was updated on March 7, 2022 at 12 a.m. to include a statement from Chief Health Officer Dr. Sarah Van Orman and student interviews about the lifted mask mandate. The article was also updated to past tense to reflect the mask mandate lift has gone into effect.