By SUSAN JONES
The COVID-19 Medical Response Office announced on March 17 that Pitt’s Healthcare Advisory Group has recommended relaxing the University’s masking requirements to align with current CDC guidelines.
The CDC’s new guidance says people should continue to wear masks inside when the counties they are in are at high risk of COVID-19, and focuses more on the severity of disease and hospitalization rates than case counts. The latest risk map shows all of Pennsylvania, except Crawford County, are at low risk.
The University said it will announce early next week when the on-campus mask guidelines will change, which will be contingent on conditions continuing to improve on campus and in surrounding communities.
Since the Centers for Disease Control revised its guidance on wearing masks indoors last month, several colleges and school districts have moved forward to drop mask mandates.
Senate President Robin Kear said at the March 16 Faculty Assembly that the decision to relax the mask policy was made with input from faculty, staff and students on the Resilience Steering Committee, and was made in line with medical reasoning.
“Of course, you could still wear a mask to protect yourself,” she said. “Our current overall vaccination rate is 96 percent which also helps to protect us. This will be another transition but we are hopeful that this transition will ultimately benefit the classroom.”
The University will continue to make N95s and surgical masks available at building entrances to those who choose to wear them. The CMRO stressed that studies have shown that masks are highly effective at reducing the risk for the person wearing the mask to contract COVID-19 or any other respiratory virus.
Chris Bonneau, immediate past president of the Senate, pointed out that the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education schools ended their mask mandates on March 1 and have seen no surge in cases. He also said Duquesne University is likely to drop its masking requirement soon.
“We’re at the point now where we’re as vaccinated as we’re going to get on campus,” Bonneau said. “Treatments are improving every day. We have the capacity at the hospitals. We’ve been following the science and the CDC guidelines have changed. I’ve been very much pro-mandate, pro-mask, pro-everything, but I think it’s time (to ease restrictions).”
The new CDC recommendations do not change the requirement to wear masks on public transportation, so they will be required on Pitt shuttles. They also will be required in most health care settings.
Almost all school districts in the area have lifted their mask mandates. At Carnegie Mellon University, masks will be optional starting March 28 for students and employees who are fully vaccinated and boosted. Penn State and West Virginia University lift their indoor mask mandates on March 7.
Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at email@example.com or 724-244-4042.
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