By SUSAN JONES
Despite rising vaccination rates that are above 90 percent for the entire Pitt community, issues surrounding the pandemic continue to be at the forefront of many minds at the University.
First, the good news: The numbers reported by Pitt’s COVID-19 Medical Response Office this week show that system-wide, 91 percent of faculty, 89 percent of staff, 95 percent of graduate students and 90 percent of undergraduate students have uploaded proof of vaccination.
The numbers on the Pittsburgh campus are slightly higher, and on the regional campuses, slightly lower, but Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said at today’s Board of Trustees meeting that “in all cases, our vaccination rates greatly exceed the vaccination rates in our surrounding counties. Really, perhaps one of the safest places to be in Western Pennsylvania is on a Pitt campus.”
The chancellor went on to thank everyone who has “navigated the uncertainty of this late summer and early fall start, (and) has figured out how to upload these cards, how to get the information they need to maintain access to our facilities. We understand that it’s been turbulent, but I’m really delighted with the degree to which our community is living up to their responsibility to make sure we all do our part to make sure it is a safe place and a place where we can enjoy a great education in our classrooms and our research labs.”
He said that activities on campus have returned much closer to normal, but the University realizes the virus is not going away and needs to figure out how to coexist with it in a way that minimizes disruptions.
One way Pitt is adapting is by opening an on-campus testing site this week on the first floor of the O’Hara Student Center. This testing site is only for:
People who are in danger of having building access terminated and need to provide a negative COVID-19 test result quickly to get back in compliance
Exposed, asymptomatic individuals
No symptomatic testing will be offered at the O’Hara site; if you have symptoms, contact Student Health.
At Pitt–Johnstown, which has the lowest vaccination rate at 77 percent of employees and 73 percent of students, the faculty senate passed a resolution last week urging the Pitt system “to mandate vaccination for COVID-19 for all faculty, staff and students.” The Oakland campus’ University Senate passed a similar resolution in the spring.
Compliance with guidelines
At the Senate Student Admissions, Aid and Affairs (SAAA) committee meeting on Sept. 22, Kenyon Bonner, vice provost for student affairs, said the latest number he had shown was 426 students who were noncompliant with either uploading proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test.
“Those are the students that we haven’t heard from and … who are just not following the process, and those are the students who have had their building access restricted,” Bonner said. “Other students have been trying to get into compliance but have been having problems either uploading their vaccination cards or getting test results back.
Bonner said they started with 2,900 students marked as non-compliant as of Sept. 15, and by Sept. 21, that number was around 600. He said they will try to get students’ building access restored as quickly as possible once they comply with the requirements.
He said, so far, 24,509 student vaccination cards have been approved.
“And those are all manually reviewed by Student Health,” Bonner said. “They’re all vetted so students aren’t just uploading a picture of their cousin and their pet. Those cards … are really reviewed by a person.”
If there’s an issue with the uploaded image or the card itself, Student Affairs is following up with students to get those resolved.
“It is a week-to-week process, so a student could be compliant for one week and then fail to have a negative test the next week,” Bonner said. “That’s why the numbers fluctuate, but I think overall the trend line is that fewer students are not compliant. And I think as we get into the next week, that number will drop even more as students develop a routine, and they start utilizing the on-campus process because it does have the ability to cut down on the front-end shipping times.”
Several people at the SAAA committee meeting talked about problems with testing delays, not just for those who haven’t been vaccinated, but also for anyone who has been exposed to someone with COVID-19 or has symptoms.
Co-chair Nancy Glynn, an assistant professor of epidemiology in the Graduate School of Public Health, said after she was exposed to someone with COVID, it took her five days to get the test kit from Quest. By then, she had gotten a test elsewhere and gotten the results. The problem is that if you go outside of Quest to get the test, you need to make sure your results are communicated to the University, she said.
Sybil Streeter, the committee’s other co-chair and a professor of psychology, on a recent day, taught two classes, and “10 percent of the students that should have been in my classes were not for either delays in testing reports or waking up with symptoms that seemed like they might be COVID.”
Issues were raised in the Educational Policies committee this week about how to accommodate students who are sick and who the University does not want coming into class. Joe McCarthy, vice provost of undergraduate studies, made it clear that faculty can record their lectures for those students or can simply access Zoom through their laptops to connect with a student during class (see related story).
Streeter also said the building she was in, which she didn’t name, had no mechanism to stop anyone from entering. There were swipe machines, but no guard or safety concierge making sure people swiped.
Student Government Board President Harshitha Ramanan, who is on the committee, said SGB has gotten several reports from students that no one is at a checkpoint. The board is talking about developing a form where students can report these issues. Bonner said issues like that should be reported to Public Safety or through the Pitt Concern Connection.
Ramanan said the organization also has been trying to stress to students that they should stay home if they’re sick, even if it’s not COVID.
Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at email@example.com or 724-244-4042.
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