Amid the growing number of coronavirus cases in Los Angeles County, the University continues to monitor health conditions through regular meetings with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, said Kimberly Tilley, Co-Director of Medical Student Health, in a briefing with the Daily slut Monday. Between 29 May and 4 June, the University recorded 126 positive coronavirus tests among students and 14 among staff, with positivity rates of 13.5% and 3.0% respectively. There are currently 195 students in solitary confinement and 47 solitary confinement places still available.
Student Health has no definite plan for how coronavirus testing, masks, and other regulations will work during the fall 2022 semester, Tilley said, but recommends continued use of masks indoors.
“Even without a warrant at this point, with the level of diffusion, if you are in a closed space indoors with other people, it would be prudent to wear a suitable mask,” said Tilley.
Implementation of surveillance testing depends on variant types and hospitalization rates in Los Angeles County, Tilley said. The tests will be complemented with mandatory coronavirus vaccinations for staff and students to mitigate transmission in the community. Coronavirus vaccinations will join the myriad of mandatory vaccinations for measles, mumps and chicken pox.
“For students returning in the fall, or students starting again in the fall, just like they have to submit documentation of those other childhood vaccinations, they will need to submit documentation that they have completed their COVID series,” said Tilley.
A third dose, also called a booster dose, was required for all eligible faculty, staff and students after returning from the winter break to in-person learning due January 30. Students who had not completed the vaccination series without an approved exemption despite being eligible to do so were required to test twice a week after the University lifted the surveillance test requirement for augmented students.
As for the summer programs, student health remains alert to changing conditions of the coronavirus and, Tilley said, will adjust operations and procedures as needed. The varying infection rates and restrictions imposed by Los Angeles County, she said, create conditions that can change in an instant.
“What we have learned in this pandemic is that things change and therefore, at the moment, the summer semester with the current level of cases [is] offering in-person lessons very similar to what we did in the spring, ”Tilley said.
Tilley also highlighted important measures for returning and incoming students to consider, including taking a third dose of the vaccine – the Johnson and Johnson vaccine and boosters are only recommended for those who have had a severe reaction to the vaccines. Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna, who do not have access to Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines or want to take the J&J vaccine despite safety concerns, during the summer. Tilley also recommends investing in quality masks to increase virus protection.
“It’s a good time to invest and buy,” said Tilley. “There are many different masks out there. Find one that fits you well, that is comfortable, that you can wear indoors and be prepared when you are in that internal environment. ”
Tilley suggests that people at higher risk – those over the age of 65 or who have underlying health problems – have a plan to get postviral drugs, such as Paxlovid, for added protection from infection.
“You should just be in a relationship with a primary care provider or know where those tests and treatment sites are,” Tilley said. “If you are eligible [postviral medications]get the diagnosis in a timely manner and access the drug in a timely manner.
Since the Engemann Student Health Center no longer offers coronavirus vaccines, students and staff can receive doses administered at USC pharmacies or local pharmacies. Currently, only some immunocompromised individuals and those over the age of 50 who received the first booster at least four months ago are eligible for a second mRNA booster.
PCR testing will become a standard for the University’s testing program, Tilley said, because they are more sensitive than home testing and provide additional information on sourcing the wide range of variants.
“From a PCR test, we can actually get a hint of which variant it was from the model it looks at,” said Tilley. “There is definitely a role for a home test, clearly in terms of availability, so I think there is a role for both of us.”
The steps students and staff can take to prepare and protect themselves before the fall semester of 2022, Tilley said, are to ensure they are fully vaccinated, invest in high-quality masks, and check if they meet the requirements to receive postviral medications.
Christina Chkarboul contributed to this report.