Health Advisory — Prevention of Respiratory Illness

November 9, 2021

TO: USC Students, Faculty, and University Staff

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

RE: Health Advisory — Prevention of Respiratory Illness

As we move into fall cold and flu season, we are sharing this update on safety precautions to prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses including COVID-19. After reaching an expected apex in positive cases during the fall start of the semester (0.51% positivity, 150 positive cases, 8/15-21, week 1 of fall move-in); the weekly surveillance testing program allowed campus to identify, contact trace, and isolate positive cases, reducing spread and leading to a low rate of infection by week 8 (0.09% positivity, 18 positive cases, 10/10-16, week 8 after move-in.) We are very pleased to report that there have been no outbreaks on campus this semester as we have returned to in-person activities; and no transmission attributed to workplace contact or classroom contact.

The high COVID-19 vaccination rates among faculty, staff and students — 95% fully vaccinated among all campus populations — along with universal indoor masking, increased air exchange upgrades indoors, emphasis on hand hygiene, and other precautions — have provided substantial protection against illness, and particularly against severe disease and death.

Current CDC data on COVID-19 has demonstrated that individuals who are unvaccinated have a six-times greater risk of illness than vaccinated counterparts; and have a 11-times greater risk of death. Within the USC community, unvaccinated individuals have a 2-4 times greater risk of infection.

Unfortunately, since late October, positivity rates have increased each week in both LA County and in the campus populations. Last week, (week 10 since move-in) there were 69 positive cases, (0.21% positivity rate among students, 0.62% among faculty and staff).

Some of this can be attributed to more activities open in Los Angeles County, more high-risk interaction such as in restaurants and bars, and reductions of physical distancing measures along with changing weather and the natural patterns of the virus.

We remind our community of measures you can take to protect yourself, your colleagues, friends, peers, and family as we enter the colder months with more time indoors and higher risk of respiratory infection:

  • Get a flu shot — flu vaccination is required for all students; and faculty and staff. Getting immunization by November 15 will protect you from prolonged flu illness. This timing is beneficial for you as it takes 2 weeks for you to develop immunity, just in time for end-of-semester final projects, holiday travel, and seasonal gatherings. Reducing respiratory illness in the community also prevents strain on the healthcare system, and potential “twindemic” of flu and COVID-19 presenting simultaneously in the community. Beginning in December, your Trojan Check will not permit campus entry if your influenza requirement is out of compliance.
  • Get a COVID-19 booster — education settings are considered a higher risk environment for contracting illness; all students, faculty, and staff are recommended to obtain a booster. Per recent CDC guidance, you may get a booster of a different formulation than your original dose(s).

If you received your second shot of the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at least six months ago, you are eligible for a booster shot if you are:

Age 65 and older.

Age 18 and older and live in a long-term care setting.

Age 18 and older and at high risk of severe COVID-19 due to underlying medical conditions, such as cancer, heart disease or diabetes.

Age 18 and older and work or live in a high-risk setting, such as health care and education.

If you received the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, the timetable for getting a booster shot is sooner. It is available to all adults 18 and older who were vaccinated two or more months ago. According to the CDC, the booster dose may be either the Pfizer, Moderna or J&J vaccine.

Pfizer and Johnson and Johnson boosters are available through the USC Pharmacies; Moderna boosters can be obtained through retailers and pharmacies off-campus, please use the myturn.ca.gov website to search for a location near you.

Additionally, COVID-19 vaccines are now available and recommended by the CDC for children ages 5-11. Talk to your health care provider or pediatrician should you have any questions or concerns about a booster shot or vaccinations for children and adolescents.

  • Stay home if you are sick with respiratory illness or COVID-19 symptoms and get a COVID test. Most all recent campus cases report experiencing mild upper respiratory symptoms. COVID symptoms include chills or fever of 100 degrees or higher; loss of taste or smell; muscle soreness or headaches or fatigue; cough or runny nose or sore throat or congestion; difficulty breathing or shortness of breath; conjunctivitis (“pinkeye,” inflammation of the eye including redness, itching and tearing) along with feeling feverish; gastrointestinal symptoms (stomach upset, such as abdominal pain or diarrhea or nausea or vomiting).

Information about COVID-19 may be found at coronavirus.usc.edu; questions may be directed to the COVID response team at covid19@usc.edu, 213-740-6291.

Stay safe and stay well.