Spring 2021 COVID-19 Screening Strategy Update

Message to USC Students, Faculty, Staff and Parents

From: Sarah Van Orman, MD, MMM, FACHA; Chief Health Officer for USC Student Health; Division Chief for College Health, Keck School of Medicine of USC

Many in our community anticipate the university’s preparations for increased return to campus activity when permitted by public health authorities. These will include physically distanced activities, access to educational facilities, and greater density of students, faculty and staff on campus. Despite great anticipation, we know one of the only ways to provide a safe environment remains a strong protocol for COVID-19 screening and diagnostic testing.

For the January 2021 start of spring term, the Keck Medicine of USC team, in partnership with campus operational teams working around the clock, have spearheaded a plan that will greatly scale our community surveillance program for COVID-19.

Testing capacity for fall 2020 was 5,000 tests per week; for spring 2021, capacity will be expanded to 100,000 per week. An expansion of 50 health care staffing positions, including additional contact tracing, will support this daily testing operation, with locations at HSC (Pappas Quad) and UPC (Pardee/Marks, Fluor/King, Jefferson Lot/Engemann Plaza, and the addition of The Lab/Figueroa).

The testing is expanded through a number of resources coordinated through Keck Medicine of USC Clinical Laboratories. This diversified sourcing of the screening/testing infrastructure for the campus will further support a smooth operation and quick turnaround of PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test results. Results for PCR tests, the gold standard of COVID-19 testing, is expected to be within 24-48 hours, with the majority of the results made available on the same day.

Additionally, with the encouragement of our university leadership to pursue innovation in support of greater public health knowledge, the university is in the process of operationalizing and validating a technology solution for rapid and accurate detection of the virus that causes COVID-19. Data from the validation of this technology is currently under review. We hope to share confirmation of this screening system in the next few weeks.

In this current surge, dedicated teams are meeting daily to review cases and exposures, conduct case interviews, review safety protocols, enhance our abilities to protect each member of our community, and reduce further transmission in Los Angeles.

We remind all students, faculty and staff to complete their influenza vaccination, especially if planning to access the campuses in Spring 2021. Keeping flu out of our communities helps reduce strain on our health systems during this current winter surge.

Holiday travel and gatherings pose extremely high risk at this time, we advise all who are in California to avoid both over the holidays. With the level of available ICU (intensive care units) beds dropping to below 15% capacity in Southern California, we urge all to follow local health advisories, including the “Safer at Home ” orders by the LA County Dept of Public Health. California remains under a travel advisory and the university is directing all faculty, staff and students returning from non-essential out-of-state travel to quarantine for 14 days before returning to in-person activities on campus.

The new vaccines for COVID-19, which we will have more information about from Keck Medicine of USC leadership, presents a hopeful new chapter in the course of the pandemic, but we are still in a precarious time when every prevention measure is critical.

Every call and notification to someone who has tested positive can bring apprehension, sadness, and sometimes grief. Our great hope is that we can work together to reduce the number of individuals who receive this type of news, both in our campus communities and in our greater Los Angeles community, as we endure this arduous, and hopefully final, leg of this pandemic marathon.

Thank you for continuing efforts to take good precautions for your health, for the safety of those we love, and for our entire community.

Stay safe, stay well, and have a peaceful holiday season.