By MARTY LEVINE
Dave DeJong told Staff Council what a potential return to campus would look like for research labs next month, but when the vice chancellor for Human Resources called for questions, Staff Council members obviously were looking for answers about the conditions all employees will face upon re-entering their offices.
Although the state moved Allegheny County from its red to yellow reopening phase, “for most of our employees that means we remain working remotely,” DeJong said. However, “we are pushing ahead to get more of our research efforts open.”
While today only “life-saving research” is going on, he explained, the University will be “shooting for early June to resume some research … to be determined by (responsibility center) heads.” They will decide which facilities will become available under what protocols, which employees may be required to do work wearing what varieties of personal protective equipment, and other safety measures.
Not all research labs will open at once, he emphasized, with decisions made individually for each lab. “I really don’t see a great avalanche coming back” immediately, he said. “It will be some waves, some heres and theres.
“All employees who are being asked to come back to work (on campus) will be given one week’s notice,” he added, so that transportation, child care and other arrangements from earlier this year can be resumed, or made anew. All supervisors will receive special trainings about the rules and regulations pertaining to their particular worksites, as will, separately, all employees.
And all research buildings that are cleared to resume in-person work will reopen “under restricted occupancies,” he said. If all personnel have the correct personal protective equipment, they may not be required to maintain 6-foot separations while working, he said, but elevators will be marked to keep passengers 6 feet apart, and busier buildings may see elevator use governed by “shifts,” he said.
“We’re working to go completely touch-less in terms of soap-dispensing, hand drying” in bathrooms, he added. Asked whether Pitt would institute ways to reduce the need to touch bathroom or stall door handles, he answered: “We’re looking into that but we are not going to be able to make sweeping changes across the whole University at once.” Certain stalls, urinals and sinks will be “taken offline” to institute social distancing, and air dryers will be eliminated, DeJong said.
The Child Development Center will open “soon” but “will be open on a very-limited-capacity basis,” he said. “Employees who must return to work will get top priority.” And parking may be made available with “ad hoc assignments” for those returning earliest.
Staff Council members’ concerns were clearly looking toward the time when everyone would return to campus:
If a staff person is working well remotely and doesn’t want to come back to campus yet, does the staff person have any part in the decision whether to come back?
“If remote work can continue, we are strongly encouraging that” still, DeJong said, particularly if the staff member has a “medical condition or other concerns relevant” to COVID-19 vulnerability. Barring that, he added, those asked to return to the office, when the time comes, will be expected to return.
To qualify for a medical exemption to a return order, will an employee be required to disclose medical condition or be able to maintain confidentiality?
That is still to be determined, DeJong said.
Will personal protective equipment such as masks be provided to Pitt employees for in-office work?
“Yes, but it’s not going to be a continual supply,” DeJong said. “We don’t have that nailed down yet.” The University may give several initial masks to employees but then expect employees to supply their own in the future, he speculated.
Will there be any sanctions for people who refuse to cooperate with mask wearing or other safety precautions?
“We will be setting those expectations,” DeJong said, “and we are going to expect that those are followed,” but there is no “definitive” response yet set. For students, upon their return, Pitt is looking to “augment the code of conduct” to include new regulations about following anti-COVID-19 safety procedures.
Will safety measures be instituted in buildings Pitt doesn’t own but merely leases?
“That’s an unresolved question for us,” DeJong said, adding that Pitt is working with individual landlords to decide such issues.
What about UPMC/Pitt shared buildings — who governs safety protocols there?
The building owner — UPMC or Pitt — will apply their rules to each building, but Pitt protocols will always apply to Pitt employee behavior.
Will student computer and research computing labs reopen?
“In all of our public spaces … we’re going to be worried about protocols and distancing,” DeJong said. Given that Pitt has now supplied hundreds of tablets to students required to take classes online, “it wouldn’t surprise me if the labs didn’t even open again, but that’s TBD,” he said.
“We really want to do this wisely,” he concluded, “making sure that our employees are well-situated, well cared for.”
Marty Levine is a staff writer for the University Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-758-4859.
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