Editorial | Pitt needs to have a hybrid option as Omicron spikes

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

Pitt’s COVID-19 Medical Response Office reported 414 COVID-19 cases between Jan. 4 and Jan. 11. This is more than double the number of cases reported between Dec. 8 and Dec. 14, and yet Pitt has not set a concrete plan to address the spike after the shelter-in-place period ends in less than two weeks.

In fact, a University spokesperson said they “do not expect many differences” to mitigation strategies compared to the fall. Pitt is currently operating under shelter-in-place guidelines as well as a cohort-based arrival program for University housing move-in because of the high transmission rate of Omicron, the new variant of COVID-19. Dr. Anthony Fauci said this week that essentially everyone will be exposed to the strain.

However, despite the danger, Pitt said its goal is to “keep students in school and classes open,” and it has yet to mention a remote option for after the shelter-in-place is over. Pitt also decided to prioritize positive unvaccinated students for isolation housing, which feels frustrating for vaccinated students.

In order for spring semester to be successful, Pitt needs to provide a hybrid option. It is not enough to say that a plan will be put in place if it needs to — the administration needs to make sure that they are prepared for the worst to keep the Pitt community and the larger Pittsburgh community healthy.

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While the physical effects of Omicron among the vaccinated are typically mild, this isn’t the case for everyone. The surrounding community of Pittsburgh and even those within our University community may be immunocompromised, and getting COVID-19 could be life-threatening. Without providing a hybrid learning system and a concrete plan for students and professors to work together if someone has to miss class for health reasons, these immunocompromised students will be missing out on the same quality of education as their peers.

By providing a hybrid option to the semester, those who test positive for COVID-19 are able to safely isolate while keeping up with their classes. The new isolation and quarantine protocols Pitt introduced earlier this month help keep the community safe, but ensure that more students would have to miss in-person classes to properly isolate or quarantine. A hybrid option makes sense to accommodate these students.

A hybrid option enforced by the University also standardizes the process between student and professor when a student gets sick. Currently, each class seems to handle a student who has tested positive a different way and some professors are less accommodating than others. By creating a standardized and enforced hybrid option for the semester, students can breathe easy knowing that if they get sick, they won’t be missing anything from their lectures.

While online learning is not why we pay tuition, it needs to be a backup plan for those who feel unsafe during COVID-19 spikes and for those who test positive. By providing a concrete plan for a hybrid option, the administration will set the University up for a safe and successful spring semester.