Get to Know Pitt’s Operational Postures

A panther statue with a face mask onAs part of the Resilience Framework, which supports preparation for returning to University of Pittsburgh campuses, experts from the Healthcare Advisory Group (HCAG) have developed operational postures to help standardize Pitt’s response to evolving pandemic-related risks.

The HCAG designed the postures with the goal of avoiding the need to go into lockdown mode that prevents students from being on campus, while recognizing that a return to “normal” pre-pandemic activity is not yet feasible.

Similar to Pennsylvania’s reopening guidelines of red, yellow and green phases, Pitt’s operating postures coordinate with official state and county-level guidance. In moving from one operational posture to another, Pitt may choose to be more restrictive than Pennsylvania’s phase—but never less.

“The operational postures will enable Pitt to function in the long term and do so effectively—regardless of the course the virus takes," said HCAG chair Anantha Shekhar, Pitt’s new senior vice chancellor for the health sciences and John and Gertrude Petersen Dean of the School of Medicine. "We’re monitoring the external environment and the Pitt environment carefully, and our responses will be customized to ensure the safety of our community while also advancing our mission as a University."

The three operational postures are:

Guarded Risk Posture

Guarded Risk Posture meets the minimum standards of Pennsylvania’s green phase. Under the Guarded Risk Posture, fewer restrictions are in place, but many mitigation measures remain. The activities taking place will account for chronic risk of operating during a pandemic, while continuing to prioritize health and safety. Decision-making is distributed across levels of authority.

Elevated Risk Posture

Elevated Risk Posture meets the minimum standards of Pennsylvania’s yellow phase. Under the Elevated Risk Posture, activities that can be held with the least amount of risk possible are prioritized. Some decisions may be made at lower levels than the Senior Leadership Team.

High Risk Posture

High Risk Posture meets the minimum standards of Pennsylvania’s red phase. Under the High Risk Posture, the University is open, but activity is heavily restricted to stop the spread of the virus. Most decisions are made by the chancellor’s senior leadership team.

“I like to think of the operating postures as a flexible menu of defined options for University leadership to choose from,” said Geovette Washington, senior vice chancellor and chief legal officer, who is leading the University’s planning. “This will allow us to adapt in real time to changing conditions.”

An important takeaway of the three postures is that, “The higher the risk, the more centralized the decision making will be, and vice versa,” Washington said.

Moving from one posture to another

What constitutes a move from one posture to another? Pitt’s Emergency Operations Center is monitoring select criteria recommended by the HCAG. If the HCAG agrees that the operational posture needs to be changed at any given time, it will make a recommendation to the chancellor’s senior leadership team.

In the case that any county that houses a Pitt campus—Allegheny, Cambria, Crawford, McKean or Westmoreland—moves into a new phase of government restrictions, the HCAG will evaluate the need for Pitt to put more restrictive measures in place.

Other situations—such as a mass arrival or departure from campus, a surge in infections or widespread failure of the community’s adherence to prevention guidelines—may also trigger the HCAG to re-evaluate the operating posture.

Paying attention to the current operating posture will be an important way for students, faculty and staff to keep themselves and the Pitt community safe.

While Pittwire will be providing regular updates, be sure to check coronavirus.pitt.edu for the most up-to-date information.

How did the University develop these rules?

As Pitt plans for returning to its campuses, the University has drawn on one of its greatest strengths—the wealth of expertise within this world-class research institution’s own ranks.

A trio of task forces were formed to focus on education, research and employees and operations, with faculty, staff, students and administrators collaborating in working groups to address the myriad issues that make up the complex task of returning operations to Pitt’s campuses. The reports from these groups, along with input from the Pitt community, are the basis for the principles in development. 

A Healthcare Advisory Group (HCAG)—made up of experts in medicine, law, public health, occupational health and safety, epidemiology and emergency preparedness—was formed to recommend universal health standards and guidelines, and to make recommendations to the chancellor’s senior leadership team regarding the University’s operating status.

The HCAG centered its recommendations around the best science, with an understanding as well that the standards and guidelines must be practical and workable, and that flexibility is needed in order to operate under uncertain and changing conditions.

As decisions are finalized, a Resilience Steering Committee, chaired by chief legal officer Geovette Washington, is ensuring University-wide coordination and communication and making recommendations to the University’s senior leadership team for final decisions.