Pitt administrators talk COVID-19 regulations during first fall town hall


Zoom screenshot

Pitt administrators spoke at a virtual town hall meeting on Wednesday, answering student questions and concerns about COVID-19 regulations for the fall semester and fully in-person classes, which start on Monday.

By Allison Radziwon, Staff Writer

For Carla Panzella, it’s important to acknowledge the “stress and anxiety” that comes with returning to in-person classes and activities, and that students are “not alone” in their transition.

“For some it’s just the routine of it, some of them there’s fear related to it, and health concerns … But I also want to offer resources on our campus,” Panzella, Pitt’s new dean of students, said.  “We have the University Counseling Center available and there are multiple opportunities within that center that can help you speak with somebody and be together with others on this so that you do not have to be alone in the stress.”

Panzella and other top administrators spoke at a virtual town hall meeting on Wednesday, answering student questions and concerns about COVID-19 regulations for the fall semester and fully in-person classes, which start on Monday. Harshitha Ramanan, president of Student Government Board, and Morgan Pierce, president of the Graduate & Professional Student Government, moderated the event.

Panzella said that due to the high rates of vaccination and gatherings outdoors, there haven’t been “super-spreader events” — such as parties or other large gatherings that result in a spike of positive COVID-19 cases, on or off campus.

“We have seen students gathering outdoors, so we want to acknowledge that — both in sanctioned events on campus but we’ve also seen off-campus events like that — and we have not seen a spike or an increase in positive cases as a result of those gatherings,” Panzella said. “That’s because most of our students are vaccinated, and I will continue to ask those who are not to consider it.”

Joseph McCarthy, vice provost for undergraduate studies, said almost all classes will move to in-person learning on Monday, but a select number of classes will still be given remotely due to the “educational enhancement” of online learning.

“There will be a small number of classes that are not going to be in person. These were petitioned over the summer as having an educational enhancement that comes from engaging remotely,” McCarthy said. “The largest number of courses that fit under that umbrella in the undergraduate space are those where language acquisition depends on seeing lip movement in order to get proper pronunciation, and the universal masking in classrooms makes that difficult.”

Melissa McGivney, director of the Pitt CoVax Vaccination Center, said the center gave about 22,000 vaccine doses during the spring semester. She said the vaccination center, located in the base of Nordenberg Hall, carries all three vaccine options. While the vaccine center mainly caters to Pitt students, McGivney said the center encourages students to bring “any family and friends” to get vaccinated as well.

“We offer all three COVID-19 vaccines, which is totally unique in the area. You can walk in and tell us what you want. You can walk in and say ‘I don’t know what I want. Talk to me about the differences between the vaccines,’” McGivney said. “You can bring your friends, your family. You can bring the person you live next door to. We’ve had many people come together, and actually, we love that.”

McGivney also said the clinic will carry COVID-19 booster shots once they are approved.

“You all see the news just as quickly as we all do, so once the boosters are approved for whichever individuals and whichever vaccine, we will have those available on campus,” McGivney said. “We will make sure you have access to that.”

Elise Martin, a member of the COVID-19 Medical Response Office, said she recommends all students get tested if they show symptoms of COVID-19, no matter their vaccination status. She said while vaccination rates are high, symptomatic breakthrough infections are still possible. She said to reach out to the Student Health Center for “any symptomatic testing means you guys have.”

“Of course these infections are more common in the unvaccinated, because we have a high rate of vaccination amongst our population, we’re gonna see breakthrough infections,” Martin, the associate medical director of infection prevention and hospital epidemiology, said. “You still wanna identify that to decrease the risk of spread. So if you do have any symptoms, whether you are vaccinated or not — even if your symptoms are very mild … We still encourage everybody to get tested.”

Amanda Godley, vice provost for graduate studies, said some students are currently staying remote because their instructor isn’t in the classroom. Due to the first two weeks of class being remote optional, many students are “eager” to return to the classroom.

“From what I’ve heard from students, both graduate and undergraduate, not going to the classroom doesn’t mean that the student doesn’t want to be in person,” Godley said. “A lot of students I’m talking to have chosen not to go to the classroom because the faculty isn’t there, and they’re eager for the day when the faculty will be back in the classroom so they can return to learning in person.”

Godley also said in-person learning wouldn’t occur if it wasn’t safe to do so.

“We wouldn’t be having classes in person if we didn’t think it was safe, if the CMRO hadn’t looked through all available data and studies and information that we have on transmission,” Godley said. “Of course we can’t say 100% no transmission will occur, but the decision was made based on a lot of careful information and discussion about what was in the best interest of students.”