Message from Provost Zukoski Regarding Restart Activities

Dear USC Community,

As we begin a phased approach toward resuming some on-campus activities, progress has been made in a number of areas that I would like to share with you today.

Our strategy is guided by the following principles:

  1. Health and safety come first: Protect the well-being of our students, faculty, staff, and patients – and be there for our neighbors and local community.
  2. Decisions will advance our mission: Ensure the excellence and continuity of our educational programs, student activities, and research, while promoting access and equity.

Phased approach
Though most of our colleagues continue to work remotely and from home, we have brought back a small number of researchers, clinical education programs, and Keck healthcare operations. We are taking a carefully planned phased approach, which we designed in consultation with local health authorities, our own health care experts, and CDC guidelines. We are now in phase 2 of our plan.

In addition, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health issued a set of protocols for higher education that covers policies and practices to protect employee health, maintain physical distancing, control the spread of infection, communicate with employees and the public, and ensure equitable access to critical services. We are working closely with LA County officials and will ensure that the University is fully compliant.

Our progress from one phase to another will not follow a calendar schedule. Instead, these decisions will be made based on conditions on and around campuses, the continued spread of COVID-19 in Los Angeles, and the need to adhere to federal, state, and local guidance.

While our phased approach is managed centrally, each school and department has been asked to submit for approval its own phased campus restart plan that adheres to the University’s guidelines. This ensures that we are able to think through an exhaustive list of contingencies and school-specific needs, and that we remain nimble, ready to move forward – or if needed, back – through each phase as conditions dictate.

When faculty and staff should return
For now, the great majority of our Trojan community should continue working remotely. Please do not report on-site unless you have been instructed to do so by your supervisor.

For faculty, teaching assignments will be determined by school and department following guidelines based on safety, availability of classrooms, and faculty availability. These are in development and will be available soon.

All who return must complete a training module, and a daily Trojan Check wellness checker, both of which are described in detail below. Face coverings will be provided and must be worn at all times.

If you identify as someone who might be at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 due to age or underlying health conditions, or have family members in the “high risk” category, temporary accommodations will be granted to the extent feasible. Staff and faculty with concerns should contact their supervisors, department chairs, HR partners, or deans of faculty, who will work with Disability Services and Programs. Students should contact Disability Services and Programs directly.

Before returning to campus, every student, faculty, and staff member will be required to complete a Health, Hygiene and Safety training module on TrojanLearn, which covers topics such as proper handwashing, physical distancing, mandatory use of facial coverings, and sanitation protocols, as well as illness reporting and actions for individuals at higher risk of severe disease from COVID-19.

The training was piloted with the small number of employees who were permitted to return to campus, and we will be sharing it more broadly as appropriate.

As part of the training, each person will sign an attestation committing to follow the protocols the University is putting in place. Every person who returns to campus is responsible not only for their own health, but in caring for the health and well-being of everyone around them. The training and attestation underscore the need for a commitment by all to adhere to USC’s physical distancing, personal hygiene, and facial covering requirements.

Trojan Check daily wellness checker
All students, faculty, and staff members returning to campus will be required to complete Trojan Check, a brief wellness assessment that must be completed each day before entering campus. The daily wellness checker is available in paper form on campus, as well as online. Upon completion of the assessment, the system generates a pass which will be required to access campus and select buildings.

Testing is available on campus for faculty, staff, and students who develop symptoms consistent with COVID-19 or are exposed. Surveillance testing (a sampling of the population) will be conducted on an ongoing basis. More information about where and when testing will be administered on campus will be provided over the coming weeks. International students and other students, faculty, and staff arriving from outside of the United States will be required to self-quarantine for 14 days before returning to campus.

Incident tracking, contact tracing, and quarantine space
Given ongoing community transmission in Los Angeles, we expect to see positive cases of COVID-19 in the campus community. Employees, visitors, and students who test positive for COVID-19 and have been on campus within 48 hours of symptoms onset and/or diagnosis must notify the University by calling the COVID-19 Hotline at (213) 740-6291. A dedicated USC contact tracing team through USC Student Health will coordinate notification of any exposed persons with the Los Angeles Department of Public Health, as well as any needed cleaning and community notifications. The dedicated team closely tracks all cases to allow for early recognition of outbreaks.

We will provide regular online updates about rates of infection and notifications for groups who may have been exposed to a positive case of COVID-19. Notifications will be targeted to individuals and groups who may need to be tested, self-isolate, or self-monitor for symptoms.

All students – whether they live on or off campus – who become ill or exposed will be provided isolation or quarantine lodging and assistance. We will also provide lodging for faculty and staff who cannot quarantine safely at home. I look forward to sharing more details on our contact tracing protocol with you soon.

We are currently reconfiguring our facilities and spaces to reduce the risk associated with virus transmission, and anticipate that the number of rooms available for teaching and other activities will be severely restricted this term. We are configuring workspaces to allow for six feet between individuals and will be installing barriers in workspaces where people must face each other or are unable to be six feet apart. There are also overall limits to the total number of people in a room, set by the county. In-person meetings will be limited to 10 people per gathering and ensure six feet of physical distancing.

The University has also implemented a robust cleaning and sanitation process in all public buildings and recreation spaces. Classrooms, especially high touch surfaces, for example, are thoroughly cleaned three times a day. Restrooms and high touch areas will also receive special attention. Additionally, cleaning supplies will be available for individuals to make touch ups to their workspaces.

Ventilation and HVAC systems
All centrally controlled heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) building systems are run at least two hours before and after building occupancy. Systems that have the ability to run with 100 percent outside air will be run during this time to flush the buildings with filtered outside air.

We have also disabled the centrally managed demand control ventilation system to maximize the amount of outside air to each space within the buildings at all times.

USC’s HVAC systems are designed to meet all required ventilation standards and building codes by allowing enough fresh outdoor air to control contaminant levels in buildings.

In line with public health guidance, many of our buildings will not be at full occupancy, and all occupants must adhere to physical distancing measures. This results in higher per person outdoor air flow rates to control contaminants, including COVID-19.

Face covering and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) 
Face coverings will be required on campus. We have published a set of guidelines which describe a variety of available face coverings and recommend which type of covering is most suitable for each member of our campus community. The guidelines were designed following extensive consultation with our Keck School of Medicine’s COVID-19 Evidence Summary team, several other campus experts, and in adherence with all relevant city, county, and state health regulations.

In addition, USC has established a centralized process for departments to source face coverings and PPE for staff, faculty, and students through an online portal. Information on the guidelines, policies, and steps involved in using this portal are included in these two helpful documents:

  • PPE Standard Operating Procedure – outlines the policies and procedures for ordering PPE through our online portal.
  • PPE Matrix – official university guidelines for using PPE to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Community commitment
It is imperative that we share the responsibility for keeping our entire community safe. Faculty, staff, and students will be expected to follow all on-campus protocols – including wearing a face covering – and to observe the safety guidelines in their offices, classrooms, laboratories, residence halls, and off-campus housing and when out interacting with the community. We all must do our part to protect ourselves and those populations on our campus and in our neighborhoods who are at a higher risk. Anyone who is unable to follow these rules can request accommodation; all others are required to comply.

Remain nimble in our planning
Hundreds of people are working on creating a robust plan that includes a thorough exploration of potential contingencies. Given that cases in Southern California continue to rise, please be aware that the situation is changing quickly and these changes may affect our plan for a full on-campus fall semester to reduce the number of people in residence halls and increase the number of online classes.

We are a high-density campus in the middle of a city where community spread is rising. The safety of our students, faculty, and staff is our paramount concern and will drive our decision making about the fall semester. We will be updating you frequently on any decisions we make about fall, including those concerning housing, testing, tracing, and classroom and facilities protocols. Much more to come.

Fight On!

-Charles F. Zukoski, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs