A Welcome Back Message from President Pastides

January 11, 2022

Dear University Community,

Welcome back to a new semester. We are starting 2022 with a much-needed sense of hope and optimism that this year will be better than last year for the world, and for us and for our families. I share this optimism and hope with you even as I know that we’re headed into a challenging period during January and February.

I studied and practiced epidemiology for most of my career. It felt as if I were abandoning my training and experience when I chose the path of higher education administration, and I missed my vocation. Little did I expect that I would be called to merge everything I know (and love) for the benefit of the University of South Carolina.

Omicron is different from prior COVID-19 variants — “better” in some respects, and “worse” in others. You already know that studies are showing it to be the most transmissible variant to date; we expect this to result in a January/February surge in positive test results across the nation and across our university.

On the other hand, this variant colonizes and reproduces in the nose and throat, and it’s less likely to descend into the lungs, making it a lower risk for more serious disease. There is also some evidence that it peaks and ebbs more quickly than other variants, and I’m hopeful that, in a couple of months, the worst of Omicron will be behind us. In the meantime, the university will continue to encourage physical distancing and safe gathering practices, require masks in classrooms and other indoor spaces, mandate universal testing at intervals dictated by the data, require isolation of those with positive test results for the period recommended by national and state public health authorities, and encourage vaccination and boosters for all, which will always be available conveniently and for free. Our COVID-19 information website has updated information on all our guidelines for the Spring semester.

So, what’s next? While we can’t predict the future, I’ve studied disease outbreaks long enough to anticipate that a new variant may emerge later in the year and that, if we are lucky, it will be both less transmissible and less capable of provoking serious illness. It’s also likely that those of us who are vaccinated and have had a booster will be encouraged to receive additional periodic boosters, the same way we get an annual vaccination for influenza.

Wouldn’t it be absolutely great if, by later in 2022, we arrive at an endemic level of COVID-19 that no longer disrupts our everyday lives the way we have endured for nearly two years? That is my New Year’s wish for the university and for you and your families. In other years, I’ve resolved to eat better and exercise more. My resolution for this new year is to stay healthy and take care of my nuclear and university families to the best of my ability. I hope you’ll join me in that resolution.

Here’s a Health, Carolina.

Harris Pastides
Interim President