By DONOVAN HARRELL
As the University transitions back to in-person classes this week, University leaders told Senate Council members that Pitt’s COVID mitigation strategies continue to evolve.
During the Jan. 27 Senate Council meeting, Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said the University is now “moving at a different tempo.”
This means, he said, the University will shift its focus toward stability.
“It’s not about ‘getting past’ COVID, or ‘a return to normal,’” Gallagher said. “What we’re really beginning to realize is that what we’re hoping for is the establishment of a new equilibrium. What’s been so disruptive is how we haven’t had an equilibrium for two years, and everything’s been very unsettled.”
Additionally, University leaders are encouraging the Pitt community to get booster shots. It’s also considering asking members of the Pitt community to disclose their booster status.
But Pitt will be shifting away from measures focused on containment and isolation toward health management, Gallagher added. This means less of a focus on case counts, and more of a focus on vaccination status.
This is, in part, because of the new tools that have come out to help manage health, he said, including booster shots.
Last week, the University announced that it would provide N95 masks, which offer stronger protection from the virus, at concierge entrances to Pitt buildings.
Masks were available starting Jan. 27 at the William Pitt Union, the Petersen Events Center and the Cathedral Commons Room. The masks will eventually be distributed in 45 locations, Gallagher said.
Pitt’s vaccine mandate went into effect at the start of the semester, requiring faculty, staff and students to either provide proof of receiving a COVID-19 vaccination or an approved exemption. The University disenrolled non-compliant students at the start of the year.
But overall, the number of non-compliant people is very small, Gallagher said. Less than 60 people across all of Pitt’s campuses are not compliant, including four faculty, 22 staff and 32 students.
“And we continue to work with those that are not compliant,” Gallagher said. “Our goal is to get people into compliance, not to take disciplinary action accordingly, in accordance with the policy.”
The shelter-in-place period ended for the Oakland campus on Jan. 27. The regional campuses have been in-person in Johnstown since Jan. 18, in Bradford on Jan. 24 and in Greensburg since Jan. 19.
However, Gallagher said that just because the shelter-in-place period has ended, that doesn’t mean the virus has disappeared.
The threat is still there, and people still struggling with disruptions in their lives are asking for continued flexibility, Gallagher said. The University will continue to be flexible, but it’s moving away from a “one-size-fits-all” approach.
“We now believe we can turn to our faculty and first-line supervisors to begin to work in a more focused way, in terms of adjusting that flexibility, as it makes sense,” Gallagher said.
According to the Jan. 27 COVID-19 Medical Response Office report, case counts are still high with 327 confirmed cases among students and 111 faculty and staff on the Oakland campus between Jan. 19 and 25.
As for the regional campuses, Bradford had 32 cases among students and two faculty and staff. Greensburg reported 31 students, and Johnstown reported 27 students and five faculty and staff.
While the case count is high, the symptoms are mild and asymptomatic due to Pitt’s vaccination rates, according to the COVID-19 Medical Response Office.
More than 96 percent of students are fully vaccinated while 97 percent of faculty and 93 percent of staff are fully vaccinated, according to John Williams, head of the CMRO. He said there have been no severe cases or hospitalizations in the Pitt community during the latest wave.
“We’re in a great position,” Williams said. “You never say ‘never’ during a pandemic, but I’m cautiously very optimistic about us having a good semester.”
Other news from Senate Council
Pitt Serves has rescheduled the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Of Service for Feb. 26. Registration is available online.
University Senate President Robin Kear said the Ad Hoc Committee on Dependent Care met last week and examined an issue related to the reimbursement of dependent care in the context of externally funded grants, which some graduate and post-doctorate students receive. In response, the Office of the Chief Financial Officer issued a blanket exception for the dependent care costs. The committee is still looking into the application of the blanket exemption. The committee will also give an update during the May Faculty Assembly meeting.
Senate Council members also voted to approve a draft policy on-campus crime awareness, with 39 yes votes and one abstention. The draft policy updates and provides detailed information about on-and off-campus crime alerts.
Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-383-9905.
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