The University of Pittsburgh is caught in a complicated balancing act of trying to educate students while keeping the community and students’ home communities safe.
Mark Roberts a member of the University’s Healthcare Advisory Group and director of the university's Health Dynamics Laboratory, says as the weather gets colder people are more likely to gather indoors. And he says that continuing to follow coronavirus guidelines, like mask wearing, is essential.
“Especially if it’s around people that they don’t know, they should continue to wear them at a social distance. That’s harder to that in the winter.”
On Sunday the university issued a student shelter-in-place order to start three days earlier than it had originally planned to after at least 40 cases were confirmed, a rapid uptick for the university. According to the university’s dashboard, 73 students have tested positive since Friday.
Since August, 442 students have tested positive and 110 students are currently in isolation.
Pitt wants students to have to shelter-in-place for two weeks – only leaving their homes for necessary trips like in-person classes or work.– ahead of leaving the city for break. The university closed residence hall lounges, kitchens and recreation rooms and campus dining will be takeout only.
When they return to Pittsburgh after Thanksgiving, courses for the remainder of the semester will be taught online, according to the university’s plan.
“We want to make sure that as few people as possible leave here with infection so that when they go home to their communities for Thanksgiving through Christmas, that they will not infect people,” he said.
More than 40 students tested positive this past weekend, many infections were tied to Halloween gatherings.
“This last week, the number of cases rose relatively rapidly … so that the shelter in place decision to go earlier was really directed at protecting where our students are going during vacation,” Roberts said.
The university’s Health Care Advisory Group evaluates case numbers, contact tracing information, and the number of available hospital beds to determine tightening restrictions.
By and large Roberts has been impressed by students. He said members of the team count masks on campus, and most students wear them properly. He also said students are cooperating with contact tracing.
“I was actually surprised. I was worried [mask wearing] was going to be not so good and that we were going to go down the path many of the colleges have,” he said.
While he has been pleased with campus rule compliance, Roberts said his ethos continues to be the balance between a good education and a safe community.
“We won't get it perfect, right? There will be cases of infection. There will be people who didn't have as good an educational experience. But we're trying our best to make that balance where we try to keep our students, our faculty, our staff and Allegheny County as safe as possible,” he said.