Charles F. Zukoski
Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs
Sarah Van Orman, MD, MMM, FACHA
Chief Health Officer, USC Student Health, Division Chief for College Health, Keck School of Medicine of USC
January 7, 2022
Dear USC Community,
Spring semester brings new opportunities, new classes, and a return to the academic year with a fresh start. We look forward to seeing our students back on our campuses. Although this beginning of 2022 coincides with a challenging phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are marshaling all our resources to make this a successful semester. Each of you — our students, faculty, and staff — has shown tremendous strength and resilience, and we are grateful to be part of a wonderful community rich in friendship and kindness.
The Omicron variant is significantly different than previous variants of COVID. Omicron is more infectious and faster moving, but there is evidence of fewer cases of severe illness, particularly among individuals who have been fully vaccinated, including with a booster. Current modeling indicates the next few weeks will see a continued high positivity rate and high level of community spread, until we pass a peak point and cases begin to decline. A variety of projections indicate that may happen in the latter half of January.
Given the distinct challenges of the Omicron variant, USC will add four additional days of remote learning, and we now plan to resume in-person instruction Monday, January 24 . This allows students – particularly those who may need additional time to coordinate travel – to take advantage of the upcoming three-day Martin Luther King holiday weekend. While university housing remains open to those who need it, students are encouraged to consider delaying their return to campus, to the extent feasible, during the two-week period of remote instruction. Graduate and professional students will hear directly from individual schools about program-specific impacts. Our plan – similar to that of other universities in Southern California – is based on both the available resources and unique challenges here in Los Angeles. We recognize that other institutions’ restart strategies may differ based on the conditions on their campuses and in their respective communities.
This surge is unlike others, and as a community we are in a much better position to maneuver the course of COVID-19 than at any previous time of the pandemic. Our high vaccination rate, booster requirement, strong testing program, and masking precautions will help us through. Just as we did last Fall, we need to come together as a community, and each do our part. We know our students, faculty, and staff thrive through in-person interactions, and this is important to us all. We will, of course, continue to follow the direction of state and county health authorities, monitor our peer institutions, and seek input from our public health experts.
The initial data indicate that vaccines continue to offer strong protection, especially when our community is fully vaccinated and boosted. Waning immunity, from the passage of time, can be restored through boosters, which are now required for all eligible students, faculty, and staff. Information about boosters, including the newly shortened period for Pfizer and Moderna (to five months after the first series), may be found on our website. If you have completed your booster outside of USC, please upload this documentation in MySHR. Faculty, staff, and students who are eligible and have not yet completed their booster will be subject to increased requirements for surveillance testing.
Data from other countries indicate that surges of Omicron reach a peak after several weeks, then begin to decline. A higher number of boosted individuals provide less “fuel” for transmission to burn through in our community. Reaching a higher rate of boosted vaccinations provides greater protection for all of us, and a better chance of a faster end to the current surge.
Other University Measures
There are significant measures that have been taken so that we may continue safely operating in person:Testing capacity continues to be maintained as a priority resource for all students, faculty, and staff. High demand may cause some delays in server access and possibly lab turnaround times, but our teams are working around the clock to ensure testing will continuously be available for our community.The return of in-person classes, as well as other in-person events and gatherings, on January 24 allows more time for our community to get boosters if eligible, arrange for pre- and post-travel testing, and/or recover from any surge-related illness.
We do anticipate some impacts to our operations over the coming weeks. Local public health guidance has changed our campus masking guidelines, and additional new data will continue to shape our responses and protocols.
Most events will be postponed or shift to take place virtually during remote learning. Staffing levels (and normal response time) in campus operations may be impacted by shortages, including triage of services and responses in Student Health. During this surge, we are prioritizing continuity of services to keep campuses safe and functioning.
Your actions have real impact on the course of the spring semester. If you test positive, follow the guidance for isolation and quarantine. Carefully monitor yourself for symptoms. Reconsider your plans and whether you may be posing a risk to others. These acts of collegiality and kindness are in the true spirit of the Trojan Family.
If you need support during this time, please know that mental health resources are available to students and faculty and staff, and questions about COVID-19 are answered daily through 7:00 p.m. PST by the COVID-19 response team at firstname.lastname@example.org and (213) 740-6291.
We ask for your patience in advance as we prepare for unprecedented system-wide demands in the next few weeks. With everyone’s cooperation, we will come through this stronger, together.