By SUSAN JONES
For the first time this month, the COVID-19 Medical Response Office on Oct. 27 reported a double digit increase in student cases of the coronavirus on the Pittsburgh campus, with 17 new positive cases since Oct. 23.
The Pittsburgh 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.
Currently, 24 students are in isolation. Overall since Aug. 1, 314 students have tested positive for COVID-19.
On the regional campuses, both Bradford and Johnstown reported five new student cases in the past seven days. Both campuses moved to the Elevated status last week because of rising numbers on campus and in the surrounding counties.
As the Halloween weekend approaches, Dean of Students Kenyon Bonner had a video message for students to celebrate responsibly and avoid large gatherings.
Shelter in place
With most students set to depart the Pittsburgh campus after on-campus classes end on Nov. 20, the 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 in place period as Nov. 12 — which is 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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-244-4042.
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