Pitt implements cohort arrival, moves classes online for start of spring semester

Provost+Ann+Cudd%2C+pictured+at+a+Student+Government+Board+meeting+on+Oct.+24%2C+2018.

TPN File Photo

Provost Ann Cudd, pictured at a Student Government Board meeting on Oct. 24, 2018.

By Jon Moss, Editor-in-Chief

Pitt will implement a cohort-based arrival program for students living in residence halls starting Jan. 8, as well as start classes virtually, according to a pair of Thursday announcements.

Campus will remain in a shelter-in-place, and classes will remain virtual, until at least Jan. 26. The moves come as worries and cases rise due to the highly transmissible Omicron COVID-19 variant.

If a school’s dean approves an in-person class during shelter-in-place, vaccinated students may attend as long as they are not symptomatic and not test positive for COVID-19. Unvaccinated students will need to have an approved exemption and be compliant with the weekly mandatory testing process to maintain access to University buildings.

“As we continue to monitor the spread of the new variant and its severity in our community, we will remain vigilant and adjust plans when necessary for the safety and health of our campuses,” Provost Ann Cudd said. “Your resilience and dedication to our mission over the past 22 months has been extraordinary, and I am once again calling on you for your continued flexibility and understanding.”

Sign up for our newsletter

Get Pitt and Oakland news in your inbox three times a week.

All students living in University housing are required to take a COVID-19 test after arriving on campus, which Pitt said students should order before departing for Pittsburgh. Students should not go to spring classes — which begin Jan. 10 — until they’ve received a negative COVID-19 test result, the emails said. Students who test positive will be provided more details on how to isolate.

Students can also order one test through Quest before starting their travel to Pittsburgh. Unvaccinated students living in University housing are required to submit a negative COVID-19 test result before returning to Pittsburgh.

A shelter-in-place for students in University housing will begin at the same time as the move-in program, during which students should only leave to “attend classes, labs or clinicals in person (if in-person classes were approved by the dean of your school); pick up food; exercise safely; study in the library; work when necessary; and shop for essentials and medical needs.”

The announcements added that the shelter-in-place will remain in effect until Pitt’s COVID-19 Medical Response Office advises that it is safe to lift, but will be in place for at least five days after the last cohort arrives on Jan. 22.

Scientists first detected the Omicron variant around Thanksgiving, and found it to be more transmissible than Delta, which has led to it becoming the dominant variant in the United States. The variant, which appears more likely to cause severe illness and death in the unvaccinated compared to other variants, is adding further stress to a health care system still coming off of a surge in Delta cases. Allegheny County, which has 73% of residents aged 12 and higher fully vaccinated, has seen a 59% increase in cases over the last 14 days and is at 99% of peak cases during the pandemic. The county health department confirmed the first local Omicron cases in mid-December.

Other changes during the shelter-in-place period, announced in an email from Dean of Students Carla Panzella, include dining services moving to a grab-and-go model, no guests allowed inside residence halls, on-campus student activities moving online and indoor recreation facilities temporarily closing.

Scientists first detected the Omicron variant around Thanksgiving, and found it to be more transmissible than Delta, which has led to it becoming the dominant variant in the United States. The variant, which appears more likely to cause severe illness and death in the unvaccinated compared to other variants, is adding further stress to a health care system still coming off of a surge in Delta cases. Allegheny County, which has 73% of residents aged 12 and higher fully vaccinated, has seen a 59% increase in cases over the last 14 days and is at 99% of peak cases during the pandemic. The county health department confirmed the first local Omicron cases in mid-December.

Scientists have said COVID-19 vaccination with a booster — the third dose for those who took mRNA-based vaccines, and second for those who took a Johnson & Johnson vaccine — is the best way to protect against the virus. They have found that individuals with a boosting dose are at less risk for severe disease and hospitalization due to Omicron compared to those without one.

Pitt’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate took effect Dec. 6, requiring all students and employees to have a completed series of doses of an approved vaccine. Roughly 900 exemptions to the mandate have been approved by the University as of Nov. 19, for medical, religious or moral reasons.

Pitt spokesperson David Seldin said the University “highly” encourages anyone who is eligible to get their booster vaccination. He added that this is one of the issues that will be considered by the committee drafting what will become Pitt’s permanent COVID-19 vaccination policy.

Seldin also said students can continue this spring to get PCR tested for free at a tent in the O’Hara Student Center’s parking lot and receive results within one to two days. He added that there are no current plans for randomized surveillance testing this spring, as has been done in past semesters to track virus spread on campus.

Harshitha Ramanan, the president of Student Government Board, said she agreed with Pitt’s plans to implement the shelter-in-place period, providing “a little bit of buffer time to get settled.” She also urged students to limit socializing during the shelter-in-place period upon returning to campus.

“It’s going to be really hard for students to come back from being home for so long and not socialize with friends, but I think unless you live with those people or you’re going to be in close contact with them for other reasons, just really utilizing those two and a half weeks to be safe,” Ramanan said. “I would highly advocate that students not come back with the mentality now that they’re not home that it’s okay to do whatever they want, not wear masks and stuff like that.”

Robin Kear, the president of Faculty Assembly, said she thought it was “prudent” to start the semester remotely to be able to “hopefully have a safer in-person campus experience” for the rest of the spring semester.

“I hope that everyone gets their boosters as soon as they are eligible. I know this is a long road we have been on together and I admire the flexibility and resilience of the entire Pitt community,” Kear said.

[View: Allegheny County COVID-19 Testing Map]

The University has altered its operations in the past to adapt to pandemic developments, such as a two-week grace period of online classes at the start of the fall 2021 semester, as the Delta variant began to take hold as the predominant variant circulating in the country. Classes eventually moved entirely in person in mid-September — the first time since before spring break 2020.