By SUSAN JONES
With most students set to depart Pitt after on-campus classes end on Nov. 20, the COVID-19 Medical Response Office has “strongly advised” students to shelter in place for 10 days before leaving and four more days once returning home. But it has set the official start of the sheltering period as Nov. 12 — just eight days before the end of classes, but 14 days before Thanksgiving when students would likely be gathering with extended family and friends.
The idea to have students shelter in place before departing Pitt’s campuses was first raised by John Williams, head of the COVID-19 Medical Response Office, at the Oct. 15 Senate Council meeting. At that time, Williams said they would be asking students to shelter in place for 14 days before traveling, so students would “make sure they're not infected before they go home,” Williams said, to protect their families and friends.
While the Oakland campus has seen double digit numbers of new student cases in the last three reporting periods (17 on Oct. 26; 11 on Oct. 30; 15 on Nov. 3), contact tracing confirmed that the cases were tied to a few clusters of infected households. The Nov. 3 report said three new cases were reported among employees; 26 students and eight employees are in isolation. No new student cases were reported on the regional campuses.
The Oakland campus moved from the Elevated Risk posture to Guarded Risk on Oct. 19. This allowed for more in-person classes and student activities, although the number of in-person classes is still fairly low. There is no evidence that new cases are linked to activities permitted under Guarded Risk posture, such as indoor dining on campus or in-person instruction, according to the medical response office. The most significant source of viral transmission continues to be social gatherings without physical distancing or face coverings.
The COVID-19 Medical Response Office said in its Nov. 3 report that “due to Halloween gatherings over the weekend and potential gatherings related to the election this week, we expect to see the number of new COVID-19 cases rise in the near future. … If you expanded your social circle over the Halloween weekend, please behave as though you and the people around you were exposed.”
Surveillance testing has only identified one positive case since Oct. 14 on the Oakland campus. Testing continues to take place in a weather-proof, heated tent outside of Posvar Hall, which will help keep people comfortable as temperatures drop while still allowing for good air circulation.
On Nov. 4, Pitt swimming and diving paused all team-related activities due to COVID-related protocols. The Panthers were scheduled to compete in a weekend meet at Notre Dame (Nov. 6-7). However, that event has now been cancelled.
How to shelter in place
In a message sent to students Oct. 26, the medical response office said sheltering in place means limiting “close contacts and extracurricular activities in order to lower the risk of exposure to the virus.”
To encourage social distancing, the University will close down some facilities, but in-person classes and other academic activities can continue. Williams previously had said that the shelter-in-place recommendation would mean the end to in-person classes.
Dining at campus facilities, which returned to 25 percent capacity on Oct. 19 with reservations required, will go back to grab and go. Gyms and lounges in residence halls will be closed, but the larger campus-wide recreation and fitness facilities will be open. University libraries also will remain open.
The medical response office message discouraged students from attending all non-academic events and activities including home football games. Pitt’s final home game of the season is Nov. 21 against Virginia Tech. Because of restrictions at Heinz Field, fans have only been allowed at one game so far this season, the Oct. 24 contest against Notre Dame.
Pitt will not conduct mass testing before students depart campus, due to the risk of false negatives, the medical response office said. The University is exploring options to make at-home testing available to students who are interested in being tested before interacting with family and friends without a face covering or physical distance. More details on this program will be provided soon.
An FAQ from the COVID-19 Medical Response Office gives more details on the shelter in place period. It encourages students to only leave their room or apartment to attend classes, in-person exams, labs, or clinicals in person, pick up food, exercise safely, study in the library, work when necessary, and shop for essentials and medical needs. Group projects and student activities should be held virtually.
Once students arrive home, they should continue to shelter in place for four more days, including masking and keeping socially distant from family, particularly if there is anyone at high risk of the disease in the house.
Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at email@example.com or 724-244-4042.
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