Pitt officials discuss health guidelines for residence life, COVID testing at student town hall


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Administrators discussed fall plans during a town hall Tuesday.

By Benjamin Nigrosh, News Editor

Pitt students who do not comply with new health guidelines are subject to consequences as severe as suspension or dismissal, University officials said Tuesday.

Kenyon Bonner, the vice provost and dean of students, said Pitt is working on an updated Student Code of Conduct that will further explain guidelines, as well as consequences for violations. He added that Pitt will ask students to sign a “community compact” that outlines behavior standards.

“We’ve been very clear about what our standards and guidelines are and what our expectations for students are,” Bonner said. “Particularly for face covering and social distancing, [and] who’s permitted in our buildings.”

Bonner and other top administrators spoke at a Tuesday afternoon student town hall about the new Flex@Pitt teaching model, residence life and health protocols for students and faculty. Julia Spears, the associate vice provost for academic innovation, moderated the town hall.

Steve Anderson, an associate dean of students and director of residence life, said it is imperative that students living in dorms abide by the University’s shelter-in-place guidelines “for the health of the entire Pitt community.”

These guidelines require students to complete a 14-day shelter-in-place period before attending in-person classes, keep their social interactions limited to their “pod” of select students and not interact with other groups of students outside of their pod. Students moving into residence halls are also only allowed one person, such as a parent, to accompany them to their room to assist.

Besides for adjusted move-in procedures, daily dorm life will also look different this year. Anderson said the University’s efforts to de-densify community spaces in dorms include limiting 10 occupants to a shared bathroom at one time, prohibiting guests from entering residence halls and implementing “PittShines,” where communal bathrooms will be cleaned twice daily. Signs will be posted on each floor of every residence hall reminding students of these new rules.

Anderson added that students with guaranteed housing who choose to live at home for the fall will still have guaranteed housing in the spring, and should contact Panther Central to complete a housing cancellation form. Though Pitt is currently in the middling Elevated Risk posture of its three-tiered reopening system, Anderson said the University’s future is uncertain. If Pitt changes to its most severe High Risk posture and is forced to close residence halls, he said the University will issue prorated refunds. The University issued prorated refunds of housing and dining fees to students in March after classes moved online for the remainder of the spring semester.

“That’s not our first option and I think we’re in a better prepared place to understand a little bit more about COVID and maintain our community and maintain operations,” Anderson said.

The University is set to conduct systematic, random COVID-19 testing once students arrive on campus to monitor community prevalence and hopefully prevent another campus shutdown. John Williams, the director of Pitt’s COVID-19 Medical Response Office, said about 10% of students will be asked to participate in the University’s surveillance testing through a self-collected nasal swab. The Student Health Service will also offer testing for students displaying COVID-19 symptoms.

Results for both surveillance tests and symptomatic tests will be returned in one day, Williams said, and students who test positive will be placed in isolated housing and provided food until they can return to their residence.

But Williams said despite the rigorous testing offered by the University, students must remember to practice social distancing, wear facial coverings whenever they are around others and practice hand hygiene.

“I think the best example of the limitations of testing are in the highly public figures in the White House administration who are tested daily, yet people still become infected because they’re not observing proper social distancing,” Williams said.

In order to keep students socially distanced, Joe McCarthy, the vice provost for undergraduate studies said the University is adopting new classroom technology and the Flex@Pitt teaching model. Using the new teaching model, students have the choice of attending classes in person, synchronously via livestream or asynchronously via recorded lectures. Faculty are also not required to teach in person, but must provide a classroom experience for students.

He said 90% of undergraduate classes can be taken completely remotely, with the exception of high-level clinical rotations for nursing students and several labs that are “really critical that they happen in a hands-on environment.”

Amanda Godley, the vice provost for graduate studies, said graduate students are in a similar situation. While there are more graduate-level classes that will require in-person instruction, such as practicums and clinical rotations, most graduate classes can be taken remotely, Godley said.

Belkys Torres, the executive director of global engagement, said international students have similar choices for how they’d like to attend instruction. After U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement rescinded guidelines that prohibited international students from taking solely online classes while living in the United States, these students can now come to the United States and enroll in courses that are part of the Flex@Pitt model.

But she said while new international students are not allowed to enter the country to take solely online classes, they are allowed to enter due to the hybrid nature of Flex@Pitt. Torres said the University will make a notation on a student’s immigration records, if needed, to explain the Flex@Pitt model to ICE.

No matter the kind of student, graduate or undergraduate, international or local, Bonner said the University understands that the pandemic has taken a toll on the entire Pitt community.

“There is a lot of uncertainty during the pandemic, but there is one thing I’m certain about,” Bonner said. “If we all share as a Pitt community in this responsibility of helping to make our community safer, we will get through this together as a Pitt community.”