Student Health inches to pre-coronavirus protocol

As students return to campus for the Spring 2023 semester, Student Health is slowly making a return to a normal campus, albeit with caution.

In a briefing with the Daily Trojan Tuesday, Chief Student Health Officer Dr. Sarah Van Orman said that the removal of Trojan Check tents and relaxation of the coronavirus isolation policy at the beginning of the Spring 2023 semester are consistent with other peer institutions.

USC removed Trojan Check tents from Trousdale Parkway at the start of the semester, yet another signal that campus is returning to its pre-coronavirus protocol. Van Orman said that though the Trojan Check program has not been in operation since March 2022, the tents remained during the remainder of the year. 

“In the course of a novel pandemic, we didn’t know what was coming,” Van Orman said. “And I think just in the interest of caution, that infrastructure stayed up in case there was a change in the public health conditions that necessitated moving that back.” 

Van Orman said it “became clear” over the course of the Fall 2022 semester that moving back to stricter coronavirus protocols would likely no longer be necessary, so Student Health opted to remove the Trojan Check tents.

“It’s starting to look more and more like pre-pandemic times, although we urge caution,” Van Orman said. “[Coronavirus] is still a leading cause of death, hospitalization and severe illness, and so I think we will never be without it. But we hope we can get back to most of our lives looking normal, including here at USC.”

Student Health also updated its coronavirus isolation policy over winter break, no longer requiring students living in on-campus apartments to quarantine if they test positive for the coronavirus. Students in residence halls with large shared bathrooms, such as New North or Pardee Tower, are still required to quarantine in University-provided isolation rooms. All students are still required to follow other isolation procedures, including quarantining at their own residence and not going to classes or dining halls while sick.

“If [students] are in a situation and they don’t feel comfortable doing that, there is still hotel isolation space available for those students on campus,” Van Orman said. “But that was a relaxation of the policy, recognizing that, for many people, they can isolate in place.”

The University is also no longer providing isolation housing for students living off campus, Van Orman said.

“This is consistent with the fact that for most people, given the level of infection, the availability of antivirals [and] the vaccination rates, isolation in place is now a more appropriate strategy than it was a year ago,” Van Orman said. 

Van Orman said she expects University coronavirus cases to mirror those of Los Angeles County. Hospitalizations in L.A. County are beginning to decline. Case counts for the last two weeks were lower than at the end of the Fall 2022 semester, with just about 100 cases for each of those weeks.

Currently, coronavirus cases mostly consist of the older variants, including BA.4 and BA.5. The new XBB.1.5 variant, termed the “Kraken” variant, is not yet predominant on campus or within L.A. County.

“Our precautions remain the same for everyone on campus: students, faculty and staff,” Van Orman said. “We did advise people coming back from travel to mask because we didn’t want a lot of [XBB.1.5] being imported from students coming back from break.”

Student Health also continues to monitor vaccination and booster rates, Van Orman said. Currently, 96% of undergraduates have the primary series vaccines and one booster shot, while 14% of undergraduate students have chosen to also get the bivalent booster. Meanwhile, 60% of faculty have gotten the bivalent booster in addition to the primary series and earlier boosters.

“[The bivalent booster] is just a recommendation, and the recommendation is stronger for people who are older or who have underlying health conditions,” Van Orman said.