By SUSAN JONES
Starting tonight, the Pitt’s Oakland campus is moving to the Elevated Risk posture, which includes a shelter-in-place order for students. The move is being taken because of the “consistent increase” in positive cases among students in the past two weeks, according to an announcement from the COVID-19 Medical Response Office (CMRO).
Since the Oakland campus moved to Guarded Risk on March 11, 127 students and 14 employees have tested positive for COVID-19. The medical response office confirmed in its March 23 report that the U.K. variant, B.1.1.7, is present on the Pittsburgh campus. That report cited two consecutive weekends where students gathered in large numbers to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day as one of the causes of the spike in cases.
In the fall, the Oakland campus moved to Guarded Risk on Oct. 19, but was forced back to Elevated Risk on Nov. 8 and started the end-of-semester shelter in place earlier than expected after a spike in cases following Halloween weekend.
On March 26, there were 42 new student cases reported, and then on March 30, 29 more were added. As of now, 67 students are isolation. The five-day moving average is 8.6. The CMRO reported that COVID-19 is now widespread across 13 residence halls, and the majority of new cases are on campus.
Because the U.K. variant is more transmissible, the CMRO said, “We are deeply worried about the possibility that this trend will continue or worsen in the remaining five weeks of spring term. We must take action now to reverse this trend.”
The shelter in place will start at 9 p.m. March 31. Students should only leave their rooms or apartments to attend classes, labs or clinicals in person; pick up food; exercise safely; work when necessary; and shop for essentials and medical needs. Group work for classes and student activities should be held virtually. Campus dining will be available via takeout only beginning with breakfast on April 1. Residence hall lounges, recreation rooms and kitchens will begin closing tonight.
The medical response office said the shelter in place order would “remain in effect until the CMRO advises that it is safe to lift.” But the University already announced that students would be asked to shelter in place starting April 16, to prepare for them traveling home at the end of the semester.
For staff and faculty, the Elevated Risk Posture continuing to work from home where possible. Most activities should be conducted virtually, with minimal in-person interaction.
Dean of Students Kenyon Bonner warned at last week’s Senate Council meeting that non-adherence to healthy safety rules could cause a spike in cases that could imperil in-person graduations, which are slated to start on April 30.
In a message today, Bonner reminded students that Pitt is strictly enforcing its health and safety guidelines, both on and off campus. To date, 160 students have been found responsible for a violation of a health and safety guideline, with sanctions including suspension, the message said.
The medical response office also reminded everyone in the Pitt community that if they choose to travel during the pandemic, they are expected to quarantine for a full seven days upon their return and get a COVID test at day 3 to 5 — or to quarantine for 10 days without a test — regardless of immunization status.
As always, face coverings are required inside and out, along with physical distancing. Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently. Pitt's health rules remain the same through every risk posture.
Pitt has been approved by the state as a vaccine provider, but has yet to receive the vaccine. With only a month left in the spring term, the CMRO said it seems highly unlikely that Pitt will be in a position to vaccinate the majority of students before the end of term. Students are encouraged to seek out vaccines wherever they spend the summer, particularly since some states have more availability than Pennsylvania.
Two weeks ago, Pa. Gov. Tom Wolf announced maximum capacities for restaurants and other businesses would increase on April 4, but since that time, cases in Pennsylvania and elsewhere have continued to rise.
Just today, President Emmanuel Macron of France announced a new set of restrictive measures, including a three-week, nationwide closures of schools, in a move to halt a new wave of COVID-19. The New York Times reported that France on Tuesday had more than 5,000 people in intensive care units for the first time since April 2020.
Also on Tuesday, White House coronavirus senior adviser Andy Slavitt warned that governors who lift COVID-19 restrictions before enough people have been vaccinated are “playing with fire.”
Pennsylvania is reported a seven-day average of 4,102 new cases as of today, which is up from about 2,500 cases at the beginning of March.
Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at email@example.com or 724-244-4042.
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