By SUSAN JONES
Duquesne and Chatham universities have joined Carnegie Mellon in saying they will require students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 before returning to campus this fall, but Pitt has not followed suit, at least not yet.
On June 16, the University announced incentives for faculty, staff and students to disclose their vaccination status. Pitt employees and students who complete the Vaccination Disclosure Form and are fully vaccinated or exempt for medical or religious reasons are eligible for weekly drawings, from June 23 to Aug. 6. The earlier you enter, the more chances you have to win one of the prizes, including:
Up to $2,500 in cash prizes
Gift certificates to restaurants and the University Store on Fifth
Research funding support
Pitt Eats dollars for on-campus dining
Tickets to sporting events
The University will use aggregated data to inform decision making about the fall semester. Individual responses will remain private. A pitt.edu login is required to complete the vaccination disclosure. The form has only one question: Are you fully vaccinated, partially vaccinated or not at all?
Students who have already submitted proof of vaccination to Student Health Service are not automatically entered into the prize drawing and should complete the Voluntary Disclosure Form in order to be eligible for prizes.
In response to a question at the June 15 Staff Town Hall about whether Pitt will be requiring vaccinations like some nearby universities, a Human Resources official said: “With the goal to provide an in-person experience in the fall term, our senior leadership team is carefully reviewing a number of options related to the vaccination of our community. University medical and public health experts are contributing to the conversations. We know that students and families are eager for a decision, but changing virus conditions, vaccination rates and vaccine accessibility and availability worldwide make it difficult to know what to expect for our students, faculty and staff who come from a breadth of situations across the globe.”
On June 4, the Centers for Disease Control issued new guidance for institutions of higher education on dealing with the pandemic. The report asked administrators to encourage vaccinations for students, faculty and staff through providing information about COVID-19 vaccination, promoting vaccine trust and confidence, and establishing supportive policies and practices that make getting vaccinated as easy and convenient as possible.
Pitt has created a website that answers the question, why get vaccinated? Reasons include they are safe, highly effective and allow you to do more. The Pitt vaccine clinic in Nordenberg Hall is now offering all three approved COVID-19 shots
The CDC went on to say that colleges and universities “where all students, faculty, and staff are fully vaccinated prior to the start of the semester can return to full capacity in-person learning, without requiring or recommending masking or physical distancing.” But those schools where everyone is not fully vaccinated will have to make decisions to protect those who are not fully vaccinated.
The new guidelines specifically say that unvaccinated students living in on-campus housing should live in single-occupancy rooms “when feasible.” Measures could include masking while indoors and continue to follow social distancing guidelines.
Administrators should take into account the rate of community transmission and the percentage of the campus that is vaccinated, among other factors, in setting policy, the CDC said.
In Pennsylvania, at least 28 private colleges and universities have announced plans to require COVID-19 vaccines for students and/or employees, according to a list compiled by the Chronicle of Higher Education. Penn State is offering incentives to get students and staff to get a vaccine, including weekly drawings for a $1,000 cash prize.
The 14 state-owned schools would need legislative approval to require vaccines.
Pitt also is taking a cautious approach to dropping its mask mandate. On June 4, the University announced that as of June 7, people who have received a COVID-19 vaccine are not required to wear masks outdoors on campus. People will still be required to wear masks inside Pitt buildings, but social distancing will not be required anymore.
The state of Pennsylvania in May said that the commonwealth’s mask order for indoors and outdoors can be lifted on June 28 or when 70 percent of adults get their second dose, whichever comes first. The state health department said on June 15 that 73.6 percent of adult Pennsylvanians had gotten at least one shot of a vaccine; 57.5 percent are fully vaccinated.
At the Staff Town Hall on June 15, officials from Human Resources said the University continues to require face coverings indoors at this time, and anticipates that requirement will extend beyond June 28.
Universities are taking varying approaches to masking, with several in the South saying masks are no longer required for anyone, indoors or outdoors, while others are doing the same as Pitt.
The University also advised the Pitt community to “have patience for yourself and for others as we navigate these changes,” since masks are not indicators of a person’s vaccination status.
These and additional changes can be found in Pitt’s COVID-19 Standards and Guidelines.
Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-244-4042.
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