Editorial | Pitt’s required “shelter-in-place” is delusional

Pitt announced yesterday that, come August, all students returning to campus will be required to complete a 14-day shelter-in-place to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The catch? Pitt will not enforce the quarantine.

The order requires students living on and off campus to quarantine seven days before returning to campus and seven days after. Pitt will not track whether or not students have completed or violated the order. Instead, students are expected to abide by the “honors system,” according to University spokesperson Kevin Zwick. This quarantine plan is full of gaping holes — the most obvious being that the honors system has never been a reliable method for control of any university student body.

Take, for example, binge drinking, for which universities — including Pitt — have legal consequences. Many universities, like Pitt, also make incoming first years take an online course in binge drinking, and then pledge not to drink underage. Yet, 80% of college students consume alcohol, and 50% of college-aged alcohol consumers are binge drinkers — which is to say, colleges can’t even enforce rules that are laws and that have legal consequences. Cheating, as another example, is also prohibited on campuses, and the consequence is often failure of the course. Yet 75% of college students still admit to cheating in some fashion anyway.

It’s highly unlikely that Pitt actually believes this pseudo-quarantine will work. Cases continue to rise weekly despite only a select group of athletes being on campus — many of whom had to complete their own mandatory quarantine. This is with the number of students on campus being in the hundreds. In August, it will be more than 17,000. This quarantine seems more like a technique to avoid liability when cases inevitably explode on campus. If the University requires the quarantine, then it can brush the blame onto students for not obeying the rules and not being careful. If a student becomes sick with COVID-19, Pitt can say, “But you were supposed to quarantine.”

Frankly, even if students did follow the rules of the quarantine, this plan wouldn’t do all that much to mitigate spread. Many Pitt students still need to interact heavily with the Pittsburgh community — by way of stores, public transportation and work. They can, and will, pick up the virus in other places and bring it into dorms, classrooms or off-campus apartment buildings.

And what if a student needs to go to work during the quarantine period? There are so many questions that Pitt has not answered. Pitt administration has to know this plan is delusional, and if they don’t, then they don’t understand how college students — or people in general — operate. As Pitt continues to release these plans — with local and national cases soaring it’s becoming increasingly obvious that the University is prioritizing tuition dollars over the lives of faculty, staff and students.

We’re calling on Pitt to give us an outline of how COVID-19 can be mitigated on campus that doesn’t solely involve wishes, hopes and dreams. And since that doesn’t seem at all possible, we’re asking Pitt, again, to do the right thing and put our classes online.