Returning to campus? Expect health checks, reduced capacities and lD swipes


Staff members who must return to campus this fall will find themselves:

  • Swiping their Pitt ID for building access. The doors will be unlocked during operating hours, but people are being asked to swipe their IDs to monitor building use. 

  • Filling out a daily self-attestation via app, saying they are COVID-19 symptom-free and have not been exposed to someone with the disease in the past day.

  • Working amid a network of pandemic safety ambassadors — staff volunteers ready to answer questions, serve as role models for office safety procedures and provide masks and cleaning supplies. (See related story)

  • Able to use most spaces, but with bathrooms and elevators marked and restricted to a fraction of their usual area.

  • Able to take advantage of free half-hour Healthy Ride bicycle trips and plenty of $5 all-day parking spots in University lots for their commute.

  • With the possibility of a tip line becoming available for reporting safety issues among fellow staff members — to prompt correction, not punishment.

Five Pitt administrators addressed these and other issues at an online staff forum on Aug. 5, designed to reassure staff returning — and staff who will still be working from home until at least January — that working conditions are still workable during the pandemic.

Those staying home won’t see any changes to their regimens. Human Resources head Dave DeJong told attendees that, for those with childcare or other issues that may interfere with normal work-at-home hours, “work time will probably be idiosyncratic and we’re asking supervisors to be … accommodating.”

He also addressed several questions about paid time off:

  • Those who need additional sick time — beyond the extra two weeks given to everyone during the pandemic — should use the FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act).

  • Extra paid time off, currently allowed to accrue through Nov. 30, will stop accruing on Dec. 1 for those who have passed their yearly limit of PTO accumulation. Although this time will not be forfeited, more PTO will not accrue until the excess time is used.

DeJong, who is also acting senior vice chancellor for Business and Operations, said staff working on campus this fall will be asked to take safety training, which is still being developed; “acknowledge a compact” for safe on-campus behavior; wear protective face coverings when entering buildings; and help keep offices and common areas clean.

Those interested in serving as pandemic safety ambassadors should send their name and responsibility center to

John Williams, director of the COVID-19 Medical Response Office on campus, announced that Pitt’s employee health office had a “very robust contact-tracing” system, in development since the spring. Those who believe they have been exposed to a person with COVID-19 — meaning they have been “less than 6 feet (away), more than 15 minutes, without a mask,” according to federal health guidelines, he said — should contact employee health. That office will help staff members decide whether quarantine or isolation is in order.

An employee safety tip line, for staff members to report unsafe actions they observe in the workplace, may be set up, he said, in parallel to the student tip line aimed at bringing student behavior in line with safe practices, rather than meting out punishment, he emphasized.

Scott Bernotas, associate vice chancellor in the Office of Facilities Management, announced that, “We’ve completed a deep clean of all buildings,” including all classrooms and high-touch areas. His office also has completed a check of all heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems on campus and “adjusted units to allow for increased outside air,” he said.

That leaves, Bernotas said, “about 40 rooms we’ve had to secure from use … Those rooms will be posted as off limits.” His staff has disabled every other sink and urinal in bathrooms, to force social distancing. “Furniture in shared spaces have been marked” for distancing or as off limits as well, he said, and signs in elevators and “plexiglass barriers as requested” will enforce such rules too.

“Tens of thousands of signs across campus” will now remind everyone to maintain social distancing, he said. Classrooms and study areas will have disinfectant wipes available, and hand-sanitizing stations have been placed at building entrances.

“Leased buildings are following the same protocols,” and about half are ready for use today, he said.

Only half a dozen construction projects have been allowed to continue, with contractors adhering to the University’s COVID-19 safety regulations, he said. Among these projects are the Bigelow Boulevard infrastructure revamp, Petersen Sports Complex addition, Salk Hall renovation, and renovation of the ground floor Cathedral of Learning bathrooms.

Pete Chambers, director of Shared Research Support Services in the Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences, reported that his 30 staff members back on campus since the research re-start earlier this summer are employing personal protective equipment but still have meetings online — even when some are sitting in offices next door to one another. Others on his staff are alternating weeks on and off campus to allow for distancing on equipment that can only be used here, such as the machinists.

He anticipates backlogged orders for some research materials that use polypropylene, which is in short supply, hampering the acquisition of everything from certain sized bottles to certain kinds of gowns.

The forum was moderated by Staff Council President Andy Stephany, associate administrator for the Vascular Medicine Institute. Nearly 1,500 people tuned into the town hall via Zoom and YouTube.

Marty Levine is a staff writer for the University Times. Reach him at or 412-758-4859.


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