Opinion | In-person classes should be Pitt’s top priority


TPN File Photo

Students walk on a spring 2020 day through the Cathedral of Learning to classes.

By Ben Mankowski, For The Pitt News

As the COVID-19 Delta variant continues to surge throughout the nation, fear is the main course served to a confused and overwhelmed American public that continues to scramble for answers. The danger of infection, somewhat inflated through this fear, has forced governments and companies to take drastic public health measures. 

Pitt joined the majority of universities with an entire academic year of primarily online classes last year to minimize the spread of COVID-19. But this year, classes are scheduled to be fully in person after the first two weeks of the fall semester. This comes along with an indoor mask mandate and Pitt’s stance in favor of vaccines. 

Furthermore, those who remain unvaccinated — a relatively slim portion of the Pitt community — must submit to mandatory weekly COVID-19 testing. Before classes even began last month, reports stated that roughly three-quarters of undergraduates submitted vaccination documentation. This number will surely continue to rise as access to the vaccine gets easier, the hesitant population gradually changes their minds and late vaccine status declarations roll in. As long as these policies keep caseloads manageable, classes at Pitt must remain in person.

With a vaccine, the chance of having a serious infection is immensely low. Coupled with college students primarily being in the 18-22 age range, there is even less reason to worry. There is still concern, however, about breakthrough cases.

Calling these cases breakthrough implies that the vaccine is failing in some way — instead, they are examples of the vaccine doing its job. Research is showing that vaccinated individuals can still contract COVID-19, which has been known of vaccines since their inception. But these vaccinated individuals reduce their chances of hospitalization by more than two-thirds. The vaccines are working as intended, largely protecting those that have received it from serious illness and hospitalization. If Pitt returned to online classes, once again citing breakthrough cases as a concern, there would be little to no solid reasoning for doing so, unless the virus mutates in a very dangerous way.

University-wide masking while indoors further solidifies why classes are safe to be in person. Masks have been proven to reduce the spread of COVID-19 between individuals. With every student wearing a mask while indoors, the chance of individual infection drops sharply lower. As a student or staff member at the University, you should feel more confident participating in person this year. Of course, this mask policy should remain in place indefinitely.

It’s also in the interest of students’ mental health to have classes in person. “Zoom fatigue” is real and has been a contributor to anxiety and stress since classes moved online in March 2020. Routines with online school are reduced to days in bed in front of screens with little to no social interaction. This is incredibly harmful, and should not be forgotten when making decisions.

Social interaction is still difficult to facilitate in person due to social distancing and masks, but is exponentially better than being online. In-person classes will lead to less fatigue and stress which in turn promotes a healthy body and mind.

Even with the constant media coverage of rising cases, Pitt should not waver on its commitment to in-person classes. Infection rates for healthy vaccinated individuals are low and the Delta variant has not significantly changed this.

What in-person classes provide can never be replicated online and they can be done safely. Pitt, there is no excuse to go back to Zoom — leave it in the past.

Ben Mankowski primarily writes about politics, economics and personal advice. Write to him at [email protected].