By SHANNON O. WELLS
As the fall semester gets underway, Pitt health officials are keeping up with and sharing the latest COVID-19 guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control while continuing to offer a centralized campus vaccination center for those seeking protection against coronavirus, seasonal flu, shingles, pneumococcal and other viruses.
Melissa McGivney, associate dean for community partnerships in the School of Pharmacy, said the Pitt CoVax Center, which is being rebranded as the Pitt Vaccination and Health Connection Hub, is more prepared than ever to respond to the ever-shifting, variant nature of COVID-19.
“I think what's important to recognize is we have been prepared with what is available at every step in this process,” she said, including pre-exposure prophylaxis and antiviral medication options. “We know now how to better handle when someone gets sick, and we can't dismiss the personal responsibility that we all share in taking care of our neighbors and our community.”
The center, located on the Fifth Avenue side of Nordenberg Hall, takes appointments and walk-ins and provides COVID-19 first and second vaccine doses and booster shots. Starting Aug. 29, the center will have COVID-19 vaccine appointments available Monday through Friday, McGivney said.
Micaela Corn, senior communications specialist for the Office of Strategic Communications, Health Sciences, said the goal of the reimagined Hub is to “make a lasting public health impact with what we learned from COVID by building sustainability, connectivity and tangible interprofessional learning opportunities into the infrastructure of health education and services that Pitt already has to offer.”
Faculty, staff, and students from Pitt’s Health Sciences schools have been involved in staffing the center, and faculty are encouraged to share ideas they may have for their students to interact with the space.
“The new name reflects the focus on vaccinations that grew out of the pandemic,” Corn added, “but also the organic niche we have filled by directing people to other health care resources and services on campus as they (visit) the space.”
Partnering with Student Health Services, the Hub will offer flu vaccines beginning with the Sept. 14 Healthy U Fair. Additional flu vaccine clinics will take place Sept. 21 and 22 at the Petersen Event Center and another as part of the Pitt Safety Fair on Oct. 4. Visit coronavirus.pitt.edu for details.
“For each of those flu clinics, we will have COVID boosters available,” McGivney said. “And we are following all the announcements from the CDC when the Omicron-specific booster will be available. When we receive that supply, we will have that available as well as the new booster for COVID.”
When to mask
Following basic guidelines such as masking when COVID cases are high and not going to class or work when experiencing symptoms still go a long way. “All of those sorts of things really contribute to making sure that we're keeping our campus healthy,” McGivney said.
Masking rules on campuses will continue to follow CDC Community Levels guidelines, so whenever the CDC designates a high community infection level for a county with a Pitt campus, masking is required indoors at all campus spaces. Visit coronavirus.pitt.edu for the latest levels. For medium or low community levels, masking indoors is not required but recommended — particularly with the medium level.
When a community level changes, the University will send a reminder email on Thursday evenings based on that day’s CDC update. For instance on Aug. 25, an email alerted people on the Oakland campus that the community level had shifted from high to medium, meaning masks are again optional.
Facilities Management personnel also will update placards and electronic signage at Pitt buildings. Sandwich board signs can be found outside most buildings that detail Pitt’s rules on one side and show the current status on the other. Buildings are now open to the everyone and there will not be a concierge inside to check IDs or masks.
Other health guidelines
While CDC’s guidance for Institutes of Higher Learning is still being updated, Pitt’s COVID-19 Medical Response Office emphasizes the following points, some of which have changed from information distributed earlier:
Quarantining is no longer recommended for those exposed to COVID-19, regardless of vaccination status. Instead, Pitt community members with a recent confirmed or suspected exposure to an infected person should wear a mask for 10 days around others when indoors in public and get tested five days after exposure, or sooner if symptoms develop. Those with symptoms should always get tested. Those who get symptomatic testing outside of Student Health Services or MyHealth@Work, are asked to report positive results to the appropriate campus health service. Pitt’s contact-tracing program will continue this fall.
Based on CDC recommendations, Pitt is pausing its mandatory testing program for unvaccinated individuals, but will offer response testing for those who may have been exposed, regardless of vaccination status. Response testing will be offered at the O’Hara Student Center and on the regional campuses.
- To minimize the potential influx of virus to campuses as the fall semester begins, students living in residence halls are still required to participate in arrival testing, regardless of vaccination status.
Shannon O. Wells is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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