COLUMBIA, S.C. (WSPA) — With the Delta variant spreading across the country and state, officials at the University of South Carolina (UofSC) are sharing their “return to campus” plans.
Classes begin on Aug. 19 at UofSC, and school officials say they are anticipating a surge in active COVID-19 cases among students in the first week or two once they return to campus.
They say they are ready for this increase in new cases and are following health guidelines.
UofSC interim Chief Health Officer Dr. Jason Stacy and interim Provost Dr. Stephen Cutler detailed what the school is doing to prepare during a briefing with reporters Friday morning.
Vaccine strongly encouraged, not required
One of the big differences this fall compared to 2020 is the availability of the COVID-19 vaccine. Officials said the vaccines authorized for Emergency Usage by the FDA are safe and effective. They are encouraging students and staff, if they’re able to, to get the vaccine. Stacy and Cutler said UofSC has given the vaccine to students on campus and parents during visits throughout the summer. The school has plenty of vaccines on hand and has launched a #GarnetandVaxxed campaign. Officials said they’ll be incentivizing students to get the vaccine. No details on those incentives were available when we spoke with Stacy and Cutler.
Proof of vaccination or negative tests needed before returning to campus
Officials said to return to campus, students living on campus will need to either upload an image of their vaccination card, proof of a negative test within 10 days of returning or a prior positive within 90 days of their move-in date. Students living off-campus, faculty and staff must have this information in by August 18th. So far, Stacy said 12,500 students attending UofSC this fall have reported they are fully vaccinated. Officials said they expect more students to continue reporting their vaccination status up until the start of the semester. An average of 1,000 students per week is uploading their vaccination cards.
Saliva-based testing remains available
Cutler was the dean of UofSC’s College of Pharmacy before taking over as interim Provost. He oversaw the implementation of saliva-based testing for COVID-19. UofSC was one of the first schools in the country to get this up and running. Cutler said it has been successful. He said it will remain an option for students and faculty this fall. In the spring UofSC reported about a 1% percent positive and credit the testing and contact tracing strategies in place for that.
No face-covering requirement
Stacy and Cutler said there will be no mask requirement in university facilities, except the Center for Health and Well-Being and Thomson Student Health Center and on shuttles and buses. In the budget signed into law in June, lawmakers included a proviso that would strip funding from public colleges and universities that require face coverings. Officials said face coverings are encouraged indoors when social distancing isn’t possible and they strongly encourage students and faculty who are not vaccinated to wear a face covering.
Stacy and Cutler said they will continue to educate students and faculty about the Delta variant. They said the variant has already been detected within the campus community.