Nearly a Year

The empty Cathedral of Learning CommonsIn the March 20, 2020, edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Chancellor Patrick Gallagher wrote, “Acknowledging our collective responsibility within this new abnormal is critical. The finish lines will move, the rules of engagement will change and lives will unknowingly be lost or saved depending on how much we—individually and collectively—can adjust.” 

Pitt had just announced a shift to virtual learning on March 11. On the 20th, only 82 cases of COVID-19 had been reported in Pennsylvania that day, and no deaths; nationally, more than 15,000 cases were reported and 201 lives had been lost. It was hard to imagine that a year later, after more than half a million deaths, substantial economic hardship and lives disrupted in a multitude of ways, we would still be managing pandemic conditions.

But, as the University shifted to remote learning on March 23 and the country began to grasp the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic, Pitt people made the adjustments necessary to not only persevere, but to deliver on the University’s mission through difficult times.

Students, faculty and staff pivoted to new ways of teachingworkinglearning and living. Facilities and other essential staff members kept the University clean and maintained, inside and out, for those who remained on campus. Alumni in the health care fields staffed front lines around the country.

Researchers sprang into action to study SARS-CoV-2. Ethicists debated how to allocate scarce resources as ICUs filled with sick patients. Inventors got emergency approval for COVID-19 treatments and the University funded many more. Historians discouraged anti-Asian sentiments and Pitt offices set up special programming to help those farthest from home weather uncertainty. The University Counseling Center expanded its virtual offerings to help students near and far cope. Exercise science pros hosted online workouts to keep the community active.

As we wondered how long this all would last, med students delivered life-sustaining medications to children and adults in need. While we figured out online grocery ordering and how to navigate friendships at a distance, staffers put out community pantries stocked with necessitiestoasted each other from porches and brought diapers and toilet paper to moms in need. When shops and restaurants shut down indefinitely, entrepreneurs helped small businesses cope.

Amid all that, we celebrated the Class of 2020 in spectacular fashion as they lived through—yes—an unprecedented final semester, and we sent off the next generation of doctors

And those were just the early days. As spring faded to summer and we began settling in to a new normal, facilities staff prepared for parts of the Pitt community to return to campus—from upgrading our HVAC systems to deep cleaning buildings.

Since last March, COVID-19 has fundamentally changed almost every aspect of life and death. There’s no denying that the more than 525,000 people who have died and the millions more who have contracted the disease have changed us as a nation. There’s also no denying that the pandemic has revealed in us all a capacity for resilience and creativity.

Nearly a year in, we all hope this ends soon and life as usual can recommence. But until it can, the Pitt community will stand together, continue helping each other, rejoice in our successes, mourn our losses and keep moving forward, because that’s what we do.

Did we miss a compelling or inspiring story from the pandemic? Let us know: pittwire@pitt.edu