USC will retain mask mandate, positivity rate drops

Big events such as the NASCAR Busch Light Clash and the Super Bowl have raised concerns about high transmission levels around USC. Vaccinations, reminders and wearing a mask are recommended. (Amanda Chou | Daily Trojan file photo)

USC and Los Angeles County will not currently remove indoor mask mandates despite California state officials announcing on Monday that they will lift the mandate for fully vaccinated people on February 15.

The University follows the strictest government guidelines – in this case, LA County Department of Public Health guidelines. LA County will review metrics, including coronavirus transmission and hospitalizations, to assess the mandate, Chief Health Officer Dr. Sarah Van Orman said Tuesday at a student press conference.

“We’ll have to stay aligned with LA County because that’s actually what we’re subject to, but overall what we see here on campus, in LA County and across the state is really reassuring,” Van Orman said. “Everything is going in the right direction.”

The University is still considering whether it will lift its mask mandate in the future, but it’s likely to remain aligned with LA County, Van Orman said.

If hospitalization rates stay below the 2,500 mark for a week, LA County will lift the mask mandate for large outdoor events, LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said. , at a meeting of the supervisory board on Tuesday. The number of coronaviruses continues to decline, with a positivity rate of 3.3% for students and 1.9% for employees, compared to 5.73% and 4.72% respectively last week.

“We are still much higher than we were in the fall semester when we had a peak of less than 100 cases per week and positivity [rate] well under 0.5%, but, at this point, we are cautiously optimistic that these numbers will continue to decline in the right direction,” Van Orman said.

With several major public events taking place in Los Angeles, including the recent NASCAR Busch Light Clash on Sunday and the Super Bowl next weekend, there is currently some concern about transmission at these events, Van Orman said.

The University intends to encourage students who attend the Super Bowl to receive vaccines and boosters while understanding that the risks are reduced because it is an outdoor event and the surge of omicron is at significantly lower levels.

“The advice we’re really giving people in relation to the Super Bowl, though, is somewhere between the extreme caution we had a year and a half ago and no caution,” Van Orman said.

USC Student Health also recommends masking up indoors, staying home when sick, and taking rapid antigen tests before attending big events, such as the Super Bowl. Free rapid antigen tests are available through a federal program that allows each household to order four free rapid tests.

The University has made preparations to ensure adequate housing for students who must quarantine, despite the influx of travelers for the Super Bowl.

Recall rates are also rising – with almost 75% of students having received their shots – contributing to the lower positivity rate.

“It really reflects the combination of the highly vaccinated population, the boosted population, combined with the testing,” Van Orman said. “We really just don’t see significant outbreaks among college students.”

This week, USC will notify students who have not received the reminder but are eligible to receive it of their enrollment suspensions. Van Orman said the University was working “hard” to stimulate students.

“There’s still a lot of misinformation out there about boosters – that if you had COVID you don’t need a booster, or that boosters are dangerous – but there’s some really good data that just came out on the booster protection, especially with omicron,” said Van Orman.

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