SHS sees increased wait times, appointments due to variant spread

The surge in student appointments is the largest increase of the pandemic, according to USF Health experts. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

The omicron variant has posed new challenges for Student Health Services (SHS) as an influx of students are making appointments to get tested when they show any form of COVID-19-related symptoms.

The increase can be attributed to concerns over the new variant. Students who even have a mild cold are likely to get tested for COVID-19 at SHS, College of Public Health Dean Donna Petersen said. 

“It might be strep, it might be flu, it might be COVID-19 or it might just be a cold, but there are students showing up just wanting to be tested, because they’re concerned or they believe they might have been exposed,” said Petersen. 

Roughly 150-200 students are tested daily at USF, according to SHS Executive Director Joseph Puccio.

The flu is another major concern at SHS as flu cases are rising as well, Petersen said. In years past, less students went to SHS to seek care for the cold or the flu, but with growing COVID-19-related concerns, more students are making appointments to get tested or be treated.

Petersen said that since it can be difficult to tell what symptoms of sickness are, students make an appointment at SHS to ensure it is not COVID-19, causing a large increase in attendance. 

“There’s a lot of students not feeling well and probably seeking care that they might not have bothered about pre-COVID,” said Petersen.

Many of the appointments being filled up are also for students getting the vaccine or booster, which takes up part of the staff and the space, according to Petersen.

She said SHS accommodates as many students as possible with the staff, which is an average of 13 providers at a time, and space it has.

“We are seeing the vast majority of patients for COVID or other general illnesses same day or the next day and we increased appointment capacity by 45% to assist in caring for the COVID surge,” said Puccio.

Before the increase, the appointment capacity averaged at 250-275 patients a day.

“Most patients are being scheduled for telehealth appointments the same day or next day. Some services that are not COVID related and are not urgent are being seen within 24-48 [hours],” said Puccio.

Procedures that are not urgent are being delayed three to four days, but urgent services are still being seen the same day, according to Puccio.

One positive is the notion that many students don’t need to schedule as many follow-up appointments due to the advantage brought by the COVID-19 vaccines, he said. This helps with continuing the flow of helping students who make new appointments, allowing SHS to help as many people as they can. 

“This is much busier than a normal cold and flu season and busier than last year’s COVID surges,” he said. “Luckily, vaccinated students do not seem to be as sick as unvaccinated students and therefore do not require as many follow up appointments as were needed last year thus currently enabling SHS to see more unique patient encounters.”

Due to the high demand for appointments, SHS prefers for students to make an appointment by calling or filling out the online form.

“They’re doing their best to accommodate everybody, but people just walking up [wasn’t a problem] prior to omicron,” she said. “Omicron just really changed the landscape because there are just so many positive cases that it’s just challenging, so they really are asking people to make appointments.”