‘Last year it was tough’: Pitt community prepares for updated COVID-19 rules

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Joy Cao | Senior Staff Photographer

Uncertainty surrounding the University’s operating posture lingers as the fall semester approaches, but students and staff are optimistic about in-person opportunities.

By Punya Bhasin, Senior Staff Writer

As Pitt students, staff and faculty prepare to head back to campus for the fall semester, many still wonder how COVID-19 protocols will look on campus. Some professors, like Steven Abramowitch, are excited about Pitt’s recommendation for in-person classes. 

“Last year it was tough because while everyone’s cameras were off it was hard to tell how well students were understanding the material, and it made professors aware of how much we rely on the facial expressions and interactions of students to teach the material,” Abramowitch, an associate professor of bioengineering, said.

The University sent an Aug. 9 email detailing information about mask policies, guests on campus and guidelines for both vaccinated and unvaccinated students, faculty and staff. The email stated that all individuals regardless of vaccination status must wear face masks at all times in University buildings, unless in an “enclosed private office or dwelling.” It also said those who are unvaccinated “should wear face coverings when outdoors and unable to maintain physical distancing.”

Under the guidelines, students and staff also must register guests that are not part of the University community. Students living in on-campus housing can host up to three guests from Pitt during the school year at one time who don’t have to fill out a registration form.  

According to Pitt spokesperson Kevin Zwick, unvaccinated students also must undergo mandatory testing. He also said the University will collaborate with clubs and Greek life to administer more vaccines. The guidelines also stated that Pitt community members can host events that are consistent with state and local guidance, with no limit on the number of attendees. 

Zwick also outlined key operational changes to the University’s COVID-19 mitigation policies, including the forgoing of the tiered operational postures as a result of higher vaccine availability.

“With vaccines widely available, and a high reporting percentage of our campus fully vaccinated, we are better able to respond to a variety of situations without significant changes in our operations,” Zwick said.

With the new recommended guidelines, Student Government Board President Harshitha Ramanan said SGB and clubs are adapting so that activities can be held outdoors. 

“With the recommendations of the school and the state right now, most activities such as in-person classes and activities will resume in person,” Ramanan said. “The only difference now is that we will have to wear a mask and when possible, the activity will likely be outdoors, such as with the Student Activities Fair being at the Cathedral Lawn this year.”

She added that individual clubs can still choose to host meetings and activities virtually.

Zwick said the University is emphasizing a transition to in person after last year’s remote learning. But if trends in cases change, the University may revert back to stricter social distancing policies.

“Our approach and rules may change throughout the term if the data suggests that changes are needed to maintain the safety of our community,” Zwick said.

Abramowitch said he expects the transition to in-person classes to be a little challenging as students and teachers adjust to the potential technological challenges, as well as the challenge of having to now wake up earlier and physically go to class.

“I had a really nice setup last year where I could just wake up and my desk was already ready with all the material and technology connected to it, and I think this year it might be more difficult to account for having to get up earlier just to get ready and prepare for class,” Abramowitch said.

Abramowitch said he’s concerned that COVID-19 mitigation policies may not be enforced after everyone’s back in person, especially for some of the high risk populations present on campus. 

“I plan on wearing a mask and enforcing others in my classroom to wear a mask, but I don’t know how strictly other people might adhere to the guidelines, which raises concerns for some of the more vulnerable teachers and students,” Abramowitch said.

Zwick said the University expects the guidelines to be adhered to and encourages the use of Pitt Concern Connection to report any violations of the guidelines.

“We expect every member of the Pitt community to follow our health rules. Those who are observed or reported as being non-compliant may be subject to discipline,” Zwick said. “You can report noncompliance through the Pitt Concern Connection, which has phone, text and web form options.”

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