Over the course of our winter break, we saw cases of the omicron variant of COVID-19 rise and disrupt our plans to visit family and friends. With such a high rate of infection, we worried that the University might decide to revert to remote learning, but we also wondered how the USF community would weather the storm if we remained in person. In our first meeting of the semester, we discussed current campus resources to help monitor and prevent the spread of the virus, how effective they have been thus far, and our overall feeling about returning during this time.
More than anything, we are grateful to be back on campus and to have the opportunity to see one another in person. While many universities in California kicked off their spring semesters online, we were lucky enough to see our peers and professors from day one. We also feel that the protocols that USF has put in place have created a relatively safe environment in our first days back.
On Jan. 24, our first day of classes, the University sent out an email listing four-to-six-hour walk-in time slots for testing that were offered daily throughout the week in the University Center or McLaren Conference Center. This provided USF’s population with ample opportunity to get tested and receive results in 30 minutes without having to leave campus. The time slots offered were also plentiful enough to not interfere with our class or work schedules.
In addition to the testing offered during the first week, the email from Jan. 24 also listed two days, February 3 and 10, on which walk-in booster shots would be available in the University Center. Although students were required to upload documentation of their booster vaccinations to Med+Proctor by the Friday before the first day of classes, it is helpful to know that the University is taking extra precautions to make sure everyone is as safe as they can be during this time.
Thus far, the University has also placed more emphasis on contact tracing. Foghorn staff has reported being informed of potential exposure from the University via email just two days after they had been in class with a specific individual. We hope USF continues to trace potential COVID-19 cases so that students can stay safe and are made aware of when they might need to get tested.
In correspondence with our staff, Julie Orio, vice president of student life, stated that 4,398 of 5,852 undergraduate students have submitted proof of their booster shot to Med+Proctor, while the rest are still waiting to become eligible for it. She also confirmed that building access would be tied to the testing requirement, and failing to meet the requirements could result in “not being allowed to move into on-campus housing or attend in-person classes.” Students who could not get tested by Friday, Jan. 21 worried that they would be restricted from entering buildings on campus. However, some students reported this did not limit access to buildings on campus except for the Koret Health and Recreation Center. It is understandable that under current circumstances, people may have had difficulties getting tested in time for the start of the semester. That being said, the efficacy of the University’s requirement for a negative test becomes questionable when it seems it is not being sufficiently monitored.
We hope that the University will keep its promise to provide on-campus testing on Wednesdays and Thursdays so that students, faculty, and administration can be tested conveniently. The University seems to have more sure footing this semester, which is integral considering the high infection rate of the omicron variant, and the continuous spread of COVID-19.
Additionally, we hope that the USF’s student body will continue to follow protocols to keep our community safe. While the University is partially responsible for taking care of its student body, we need to be self-sufficient and act responsibly on behalf of our peers. We trust that our community will realize the benefit of having in-person instruction and will do what they can to make sure we can stay together.