As students return to campus for the Spring 2023 semester, Student Health is slowly returning to a normal campus, albeit with caution.
In a briefing with the Daily Trojan Chief Student Health Officer Dr. Sarah Van Orman on Tuesday said the removal of Trojan Check tents and the easing of the coronavirus isolation policy at the beginning of the spring 2023 semester are consistent with other institutions peers.
USC removed Trojan Check tents from Trousdale Parkway earlier in the semester, another sign that the campus is returning to its pre-coronavirus protocol. Van Orman said that although the Trojan Check program hasn’t been operational since March 2022, the tents have remained for the remainder of the year.
“During a new pandemic, we didn’t know what was going to happen,” Van Orman said. “And I think just in the interest of caution, that the infrastructure has been standing in case there is a change in the public health condition that makes it necessary to move it.”
Van Orman said it “became clear” over the course of the fall 2022 semester that there would likely be no need to revert to stricter coronavirus protocols, so Student Health decided to remove the Trojan Check curtains.
“It’s starting to look more and more like pre-pandemic times, although we urge caution,” Van Orman said. “[Coronavirus] it’s still a leading cause of death, hospitalization, and serious illness, so I think we’ll never do without it. But hopefully we can get back to normal for most of our lives, including here at USC.”
Student Health also updated its coronavirus isolation policy during winter break, no longer requiring students living in campus apartments to self-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. However, all students are required to follow other isolation procedures, including quarantine at their residence and a ban on attending classes or canteens during illness.
“Self [students] they’re in a situation and they don’t feel comfortable doing that, there’s still a hotel isolation space available for those students on campus,” Van Orman said. “But that was a policy relaxation, acknowledging that, for many people, they can isolate themselves on the spot.”
Additionally, the University no longer provides isolated housing for students who live 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] vaccination rates, isolation in place is now a more appropriate strategy than it was a year ago,” Van Orman said.
Van Orman said he expects the university’s coronavirus cases to mirror those in Los Angeles County. Hospitalizations in Los Angeles County are starting to decline. The case count in the past two weeks was lower than it was at the end of the fall 2022 semester, with only 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, referred to as the “Kraken” variant, is not yet predominant on campus or within Los Angeles County.
“Our precautions remain the same for everyone on campus: students, faculty and staff,” Van Orman said. “We advised people returning from trips to dress up as we didn’t want much of it [XBB.1.5] be imported by students returning from break.
Student Health also continues to monitor vaccination and booster rates, Van Orman said. Currently, 96% of college students have primary series vaccines and a booster, while 14% of college students have opted to also receive the bivalent booster. Meanwhile, 60% of teachers have received the dual-purpose booster in addition to the primary series and previous boosters.
“[The bivalent booster] it’s just a recommendation, and the recommendation is stronger for people who are older or have underlying health conditions,” Van Orman said.