What does the Elevated posture mean and when might it change?


As of today, Pitt’s Oakland and Greensburg campuses remain in the Elevated Risk operational posture that they’ve been in for the past month, but after listening to several town halls, workshops and other meetings, it’s clear many don’t know what this will mean when classes resume next week.

In its official chart on operational levels, the University says Elevated status means:

  • Instruction is primarily virtual, with some in-person learning

  • Housing is open with virus mitigation and isolation interventions are in place

  • Some shared spaces are open.

  • Gatherings are capped at 25 people.

Questions have been raised at recent meetings about if the 25-person cap means that classes smaller than that could meet in person. And the answer is, that depends.

Pitt had already planned to start classes remotely for everyone on Aug. 19 and then move to in-person classes where possible on Aug. 24.

According to University spokesman Kevin Zwick, “In the Elevated Risk Posture, certain classes with up to 25 students, and a compelling need to meet in person (emphasis added), may be able to meet with the permission of the dean or regional campus president or their designee. Most classes, however, will be conducted remotely.”

“While we cannot say what the operational posture will be several weeks from now, it seems likely we will start the term in an Elevated Risk posture,” Zwick said on Aug. 6.

In an interview with the Pitt News on Aug. 7, Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said the University is doing things “to try to lower the risk and make it as acceptable a risk level as possible, while at the same time giving students and their families as much as latitude to make choices that are right for them.”

At every risk level, students and faculty are not required to come to campus, but faculty are required to provide a “classroom experience” if classes go in person under the Guarded status.

Gallagher and other Pitt officials have repeatedly said that having the three operational postures will allow the University to move back and forth as the situation merits. He said in the Pitt News that a decision to move classes fully online for the semester would be “irreversible.”

“I can’t say what the whole semester’s going to look like because I don’t have any more information than the medical professionals do,” Gallagher said in the Pitt News. “What we’re going to do is follow their advice and what’s happening at the moment. If the medical team is saying they can’t say yet, then we can’t say yet.”

Gallagher added that in-person classes are not out of the question, if health conditions are appropriate and protective measures such as mask-wearing and social distancing are followed.

Each school’s Activity Area Plan will specify the approach to in-person classes, Zwick said. For example, in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences any lab-based class will need Dean Kathy Blee’s approval before meeting in person. So far, the Dietrich School is the only academic unit that has posted its Activity Area Plan.

The Johnstown and Bradford campuses are already at the Guarded operational status.

Housing and other shared spaces

Housing does begin to open up today, with 1,500 students arriving Aug. 11 and 12, followed by more groups of 1,500 with two-day gaps between. Students are being asked to shelter in place for seven days before arriving on campus, and seven days after they arrive.

Joe Beaman, director of Dining Services, said at a webinar for students and parents on Aug. 10 that until at least Sept. 4 all food from the dining halls will be to-go.

The Eatery at the Towers (formerly Market Central), The Perch at Sutherland Hall, and a dining hall at the Residence Inn University Medical Center all open today for returning students. An outdoor dining hall will open next week on the covered Posvar Plaza called The Hub. This will help spread out students during peak dining hours.

Jill Krantz, executive director of Campus Recreation, said the recreation facilities will open after the shelter-in-place period is over. Students will be returning to campus through Aug. 28, which would put the opening the first week of September.

She said the facilities will operate on modified schedule and students, faculty and staff will have to make reservations to visit. The equipment will be spread out and some will be closed off completely to maintain social distancing. The locker rooms will be open, but Krantz encouraged people to come dressed to work out, since space in the locker rooms is tight.

What needs to happen for the operational stance to change?

The operational posture is reviewed weekly, Zwick said. The postures — High, Elevated and Guarded Risk — roughly align with Pennsylvania’s Red, Yellow and Red statuses

Pitt has said that each posture meets Pennsylvania’s minimum standards at the time. Currently, the entire state is in the Green status, although cases of COVID-19 have seen a spike over the past six weeks.

The University’s operating posture is based on a variety of factors, including case numbers, public health and safety guidelines, availability of personal protective equipment and isolation beds. As the campus reopens, the Healthcare Advisory Group also will be looking at prevalence of the disease among students. They plan to randomly test 400 students in each group of 1,500.

John Williams, director of Pitt’s Pandemic Medical Response Team, said in a news conference on July 30: “We really can't say up front that there are hard and fast numbers. There's a lot of data that we are looking at, and we'll continue to look at on a daily basis. Numbers both within the University such as number of tests done, number of students in isolation, number of students in quarantine, changes in rates, those kinds of things. We're also looking at data related to either Allegheny County for the Oakland campus or the local counties for the regional campuses, because it's not just what happens in the University but what's happening in the county around it.”

If the University decides to move to the Guarded status, the change would be communicated by an all-campus email with at least one week notice to give people time to plan for the adjustment.

But if the move is in the other direction to the High-Risk posture, the change could come more quickly, such as it did in March when students were asked to not return from spring break and most employees switched to remote work.

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at suejones@pitt.edu or 412-648-4294.


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