January 7, 2022
Dear USC community,
The 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 the start of 2022 coincides with a difficult phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are mobilizing all our resources to make this semester a success. Each of you – our students, faculty and staff – have demonstrated extraordinary 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 from previous COVID variants. Omicron is more contagious and moves faster, but there is evidence of fewer cases of serious illness, especially in people who have been fully vaccinated, including with a booster. Current modeling indicates that the next few weeks will see a high positivity rate and a high level of community spread, until we peak and cases start to decline. Various projections indicate that this could happen in the second half of January.
Given the distinct challenges of the Omicron variant, USC will add four more days of distance learning, and we now plan to resume in-person teaching on Monday, January 24. . This allows students – especially those who may need more time to coordinate their trip – to take advantage of Martin Luther King’s upcoming three-day weekend. While university accommodation remains open to those in need, students are encouraged to consider delaying their return to campus, if possible, during the two-week distance learning period. Graduate and professional students will hear directly from individual schools about the specific impacts of the program. Our plan – similar to that of other universities in Southern California – is based on both the resources available and the unique challenges here in Los Angeles. We recognize that the restart strategies of other institutions may differ depending on the conditions on their campuses and in their respective communities.
This push is unlike any other, and as a community we are in a much better position to maneuver the course of COVID-19 than at any time during the pandemic. Our high vaccination rate, booster needs, rigorous testing program, and masking precautions will help us get through. Just like we did last fall, we need to come together as a community and everyone needs to do their part. We know that our students, faculty and staff thrive through face-to-face interactions, and this is important to all of us. Of course, we will continue to follow the guidance of state and county health authorities, monitor our counterpart institutions, and seek the advice of our public health experts.
Initial data indicates that vaccines continue to offer strong protection, especially when our community is fully immunized and energized. Decreasing immunity, due to the passage of time, can be restored with boosters, which are now required for all eligible students, faculty, and staff. Information on boosters, including the newly shortened period for Pfizer and Moderna (to five months after the first round), can be found on our website. If you have completed your recall outside of USC, please download this documentation. in MySHR. Professors, staff, and students who are eligible and have not yet completed their recall will be subject to increased requirements for supervisory testing.
Data from other countries indicates that Omicron outbreaks peak after several weeks and then begin to decline. A higher number of boosted individuals provides less “fuel” for the transmission to burn in our community. Achieving a higher rate of boosted vaccinations offers better protection for all of us and a better chance of ending the current outbreak faster.
Other university measures
Important steps have been taken to ensure that we can continue to operate safely in person:
- Test capacity continues to be maintained as a priority resource for all students, faculty and staff. High demand can cause delays in server access and possibly lab turnaround times, but our teams are working tirelessly to ensure that tests will be continuously available to our community.
- The return of in-person classes, as well as other in-person events and gatherings, on January 24th leaves more time for our community. to get reminders if you are eligible, arrange for pre and post travel testing and / or recover from any illness related to a surge.
We anticipate some impacts on our operations over the coming weeks. Local public health guidelines have changed our campus masking guidelines, and additional new data will continue to shape our responses and protocols.
Most events will be postponed or moved to take place virtually during distance learning. Staffing levels (and normal response time) in campus operations may be affected by shortages, including triage of services and responses in Student Health. During this increase, we prioritize the continuity of services to ensure the security and operation of campuses.
Your actions have a real impact on the progress of the spring semester. If your test is positive, follow the isolation and quarantine instructions. Watch yourself carefully for symptoms. Reconsider your plans and determine if you pose 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 be aware that mental health resources are available for students, faculty, and staff, and questions about COVID-19 are answered daily until 7:00 p.m. PST by the COVID-19 response team at covid19 @ usc. edu and (213) 740-6291.
We ask for your patience in advance as we prepare for unprecedented system-wide demands in the coming weeks. With everyone’s cooperation, we will get through this stronger, together.
Charles F. Zukoski
Provost and first vice-president for academic affairs
Sarah Van Orman, MD, MMM, FACHA
Director of Health, USC Student Health, Division Head for Academic Health, USC Keck School of Medicine