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USC announces plan for ‘full return’ to campus in fall and a vaccination plan

A lone student walks across an empty section of the USC campus in August.
A lone student walks across an empty section of the USC campus in August, when the fall 2020 semester opened.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

The University of Southern California is planning for a “full return” to campus this fall, with in-person classes and residential life, President Carol L. Folt said in a letter to students Friday.

“There is good news to report,” Folt said. “Coming out of the holiday surge, we are seeing encouraging trends here in Los Angeles: new cases of COVID-19 are declining ... and hospitalization rates continue to decrease. While vaccines remain in short supply, this is predicted to improve over the next several weeks.”

A return of faculty, staff and students to campus would be accompanied by “multiple protective measures,” including a campus vaccination operation that will be able to vaccinate 1,200 people a week, a testing program running twice weekly for all undergraduates, and physical distancing measures and classroom reconfigurations, Folt said.

The university president said she does not expect to resume in-person instruction during the spring semester, but that libraries, swimming pools and outdoor recreation areas will reopen at reduced capacity. The school’s bookstore already reopened for shopping by appointment this week.

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The university is also discussing the possibility of holding an in-person commencement ceremony at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for students in the 2020 and 2021 graduating classes, but capacity would be “extremely limited” at any such event, Folt said.

USC’s announcement follows others made by California college leaders in recent weeks. University of California President Michael V. Drake said at a Public Policy Institute of California event Thursday that most instruction in the fall would take place in person, with dorm life also resuming, although not at pre-pandemic levels. The California State University said in December that it planned to resume a majority of instruction in person this fall.

Leaders of both systems, however, have emphasized that such a return would depend in part on widespread distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. And the CSU in recent days has walked back its plans somewhat, with Chico State announcing that only 20% to 30% of courses will include in-person instruction due to small classroom sizes.

At a news conference Friday, CSU Chancellor Joseph I. Castro reaffirmed the system’s plan to offer a majority of courses across the 23 campuses in person this fall.

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“It will definitely be more than 50% — I don’t know if it’s going to be 70% or 80%, I have no idea yet,” Castro said. “But it will be a majority — that’s our plan. And again, it will depend on the evolution of the virus and vaccine availability.”

Castro said that each campus will make its own decisions about precisely how many courses will be offered face to face versus virtually in consultation with public health officials and state guidelines.

Times staff writer Teresa Watanabe contributed to this report.


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