I wanted to follow up on my prior planning update about resuming operations in the continued presence of the novel coronavirus. This message and all future updates will live on our planning webpage, which I encourage you to bookmark for easy reference.
As you will recall, I outlined a general approach that would seek to replace our emergency posture with a modified regular posture that includes an adjustable infection prevention and control program as a core requirement for all of our operational activities. I also described some of the features of that plan, including:
- Operating postures that help standardize the University’s response as pandemic-related risks evolve.
- Shared standards and support services.
- Customized planning in each activity area.
- Distributed decision-making.
In this approach, key decision-makers will include:
- The University, which will determine our operating posture based on public health guidance and requirements as well as on local conditions.
- Our new Healthcare Advisory Group, which will establish standards for our infection prevention and control program. This group will report to me and include leading experts in epidemiology, infectious disease management, and environmental and occupational health.
- Managers and supervisors, who will continue to oversee planning and activities in their respective areas.
Of course, everyone wants to know what the fall will look like. Since my last update, the various working groups and task forces have provided their findings and recommendations to the planning team. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania released its guidance for higher education, and the Healthcare Advisory Group has begun developing the health standards that will undergird our approach. Therefore, the plan is still under construction as I write this, but several major features are already clear:
- We will be open for the fall. The current planning effort supports all activities of the University, including teaching, housing and residence life, student activities, food services, research, athletics and more. These activities will still occur, but according to the new requirements outlined in our infection prevention and control program. As a result, we will need to modify some of our activities to ensure that they remain safe and consistent with our commitment to manage risks related to the novel coronavirus.
- Our classes will rely on a dynamic, hybrid approach to teaching and learning. Rather than choosing between in-person versus remote instruction, the planning group favors methods that allow for flexible delivery of instruction. This “HyFlex” approach leverages technology-enhanced classrooms that can serve both in-person attendees and remote attendees at once. As a result, our courses will continue regardless of size limits for group gatherings or an individual’s ability to physically attend.
- We’re compressing our academic calendar. Moving large numbers of students on and off our campuses from all around the world is a source of significant risk for our community. To minimize this risk, we will be adopting a compressed academic calendar. The on-campus portion of our fall semester will begin mid-August, include no long weekends, and end by Thanksgiving break. Some finals may occur after Thanksgiving, but all remaining activity and any remaining exams will occur remotely.
Key dates that I can confirm at this point in time are:
- Aug. 19: Fall term begins.
- Sept. 4: Course add/drop period ends.
- Sept. 7: Labor Day, classes will take place on this date.
- Nov. 20: Fall term, on-campus classes end.
- Dec. 5: Fall term ends.
In the near future, Provost Ann E. Cudd will be sending a message to faculty and students that shares additional details on both our academic calendar and instruction options for the fall.
- We’re embedding infection prevention and control into everything we do. Specific approaches to minimize the risk of infection on campus will involve multiple strategies based on established public health guidance and validated by our Healthcare Advisory Group.
These strategies include:
- Mitigation efforts, like social distancing, masks, disinfection and de-densifying spaces.
- Containment efforts, including risk identification (e.g., symptom tracking, temperature checks, testing), contact tracing, isolation and quarantine.
- Good personal hygiene habits, such as frequent hand-washing and covering coughs.
- Our housing program will be operational regardless of the pandemic’s intensity. For the fall, any housing offered through the University must meet the core requirements articulated by our infection prevention and control program. Our planning process is also focused on ensuring that our housing program remains active independent of the intensity of an outbreak around us. Consequently, we will be modifying how we have historically used our residence halls—including looking for ways to de-densify these facilities—and we are considering alternative options to help address the demand for student housing.
- We’ll use our campus facilities differently. Our approach to student housing is part of a larger discussion that explores how our campus spaces will function throughout the pandemic. To ensure that our infection prevention and control program is successful, we must rethink how every space on campus will be used. Our current planning efforts are focused on defining which classrooms can and cannot remain open across all operational risk postures. As part of this work, we are exploring modifications and restrictions that can help maximize the use of our existing facilities while simultaneously minimizing risks related to the novel coronavirus.
- We’ll need training and education to help us navigate this new normal. Even the most brilliant plan will fall apart if our community members lack the knowledge, skills and support needed to carry it out. Our approach will focus on connecting faculty, staff and students with the training and resources necessary to have a safe and successful experience. This includes supplying our community members with the right protective gear—and then teaching them how to use it properly. It also includes empowering faculty and staff to continue working remotely if possible—and ensuring that they have the right hardware, software and skills to effectively do so. Succeeding on this front will require everyone in our university to learn new ways of working, teaching and learning while also maintaining open-ended discussions about what’s working, what isn’t and why.
Thank you, again, for partnering with me in this effort—and for your patience, enthusiasm and ideas as we continue to advance Pitt's extraordinary mission during these unordinary times.