By SUSAN JONES
Despite the declining number of COVID-19 cases at Pitt and around the world, Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said he knows, “Everyone is tired.”
“As soon as we figure something out, it seems like there's something that's causing us to change,” he said in an interview with the University Times on Jan. 31.
Pitt’s early approach to the pandemic was focused on infection detection and control. That’s now “giving way to how do you coexist with the fact that the virus is going to be in circulation?” he said.
Overall, Gallagher said he thinks things are going well this semester on campus.
“The doctors are telling us we need to start de-emphasizing case counting and start focusing on wellness and health outcomes, making sure people aren't getting very sick,” he said.
While the omicron variant of COVID-19 has caused a spike in cases in the Pitt community — more than 1,000 students and 500 employees since the winter break — there have not been any severe cases or hospitalizations, according to the COVID-19 Medical Response Office.
“What we really need to do is not a going back to normal, it's about finding a new equilibrium,” Gallagher said. “And part of that is, we've got to now start baking in some of this decision making into what we all do. And so a lot less crisis management or emergency management, where it's University-wide orders and mandates.”
Instead, many decisions on how classes and work proceed will be made by faculty members and front-line supervisors. “There will be a little choppiness at the beginning, there always is, and then making sure that we quickly respond and try to address that, but I think it's the right direction to go,” he said. “Very uniform and fixed requirements University-wide always have unintended consequences, too.”
At the January Staff Council meeting, several members complained about their departments or units not making accommodations for COVID-19-related absences, such as school closures, or uneven decisions on whether those absences are counted as sick or vacation days.
Gallagher said allowing individual supervisors to make these decisions means “the implementation is always going to be a little bit different, not just because they're different departments, … but because some of the work is different. We do understand there might be uneven application of this and we're committed to addressing those.”
He urged people to reach out to Pitt Concern Connection if they think things are being mishandled. “I know that the HR folks are monitoring that closely. And we'll be happy to follow up and work with supervisors and departments to make sure any differences make sense.”
The University also is continuing to encourage everyone to get COVID-19 booster shots, and the committee looking at devising a permanent vaccine policy — the current policy is interim — is looking at whether to require people to disclose their booster vaccine status.
“I've already asked the systems teams to start preparing systems so that we can have something that works and is not onerous for us all to upload our booster status,” Gallagher said. “We do think knowing the booster (status) will be helpful because we can reach out to those that are eligible and try and schedule appointments (at Pitt’s on-campus clinics).”
The chancellor said it’s become “increasingly clear that boosters are part of being fully immunized … from a medical standpoint and from a federal and state guidance perspective. While nothing's changed yet, my anticipation would be we're going to need to share that information.”
Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at email@example.com or 724-244-4042.
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