The University of Pittsburgh continues to monitor the spread of the coronavirus disease, COVID-19, and is taking steps to respond to community needs. As of Feb. 27, no cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Pennsylvania. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stated that the individual immediate health risk to those in the United States is currently low, communities should prepare for the coronavirus to spread.
Keeping our community informed
Since the emergence of the virus in December 2019, campus health and public safety leaders have coordinated closely with the Allegheny County Health Department and Pennsylvania Department of Health and are following guidance from the CDC and World Health Organization.
Pitt encourages members of the University community to visit the Public Safety and Emergency Management website, which remains a centralized and reliable source for information on this issue. “Knowing where to find reliable information is important for community members,” said Molly Stitt-Fischer, the University’s biosafety officer. “As the health and scientific communities learn more as the situation continues to change very quickly, access to the most current guidance is critical.”
Caring for our community
While the virus has not spread to Pennsylvania, Pitt is closely reviewing its pandemic preparedness plan in the wake of this outbreak. “Pitt has a pandemic response plan in place, and the initial stages of the plan call for standing up an informative website as we have done,” said Ted Fritz, associate vice chancellor for public safety and emergency management. “Since every situation is unique, we are constantly making adjustments based on new information to reflect emerging circumstances. Our continued monitoring and coordination with government and health agencies and our own community inform our preparation and response."
COVID-19 is a respiratory illness, with mild to severe symptoms such as fever, cough and shortness of breath confirmed in patients.
To help prevent the spread of this illness, the CDC is encouraging community members to continue standard wellness practices such as frequent hand-washing; covering the nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing; avoiding sharing cups, utensils, water bottles and other personal items; and staying home when sick and avoiding others who are sick.
The University is also taking steps to manage the impact that the outbreak has already had on some community members.
Pitt canceled or changed the venue for all spring and spring break programming in China after the U.S. Department of State issued a do not travel advisory for the country, effective through April 2020.
Pitt is also working with students who may be prevented from returning home during summer break. Staff from the Office of International Services have been in communication with this affected group and are working with others across the University to address potential visa, housing and dining needs, as well as other support students may need. With the global situation changing constantly, staff are remaining in close touch with the international student community about what needs may emerge.
“Our students’ health, safety and security are our top priority, and we encourage international students to seek guidance from the Office of International Services and their designated immigration specialist,” said Ariel Armony, vice provost for global affairs.
In addition, Pitt continues to highlight its anti-discrimination policy after people of Asian descent have reported experiencing discrimination and harassment related to the outbreak. In a Feb. 27 message to the student body, Kenyon Bonner, vice provost and dean of students, stressed the importance of taking care of each other. “Pitt aims to be an inclusive community in which everyone feels like they belong and are valued,” Bonner wrote. “Together, we can make our campus feel inclusive for everyone by treating each other with dignity and respect and sharing accurate information with our fellow community members.”
Community members who feel they have been treated unfairly because of their country of origin, race, ethnicity or where they have traveled should contact the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. Students can also contact the Office of the Dean of Students.
In addition, any student experiencing stress or concern can visit the University Counseling Center for support. Faculty and staff members can contact Life Solutions.
Working toward a COVID-19 vaccine
University of Pittsburgh scientists recently began work toward developing a COVID-19 vaccine, building on the University’s longstanding heritage in vaccine research and development.
This effort is being led by Paul Duprex, the Jonas Salk Chair for Vaccine Research and director of Pitt’s Center for Vaccine Research. The center formed a coronavirus task force a few weeks ago and has started to consider disease models that will support vaccine development.
“We have the experience at Pitt to contribute to this,” Duprex said. “The one challenge with vaccines is that the development process is not fast. When you’re vaccinating people, the safety of the vaccine being administered is paramount.”
He added: “We will play our part because we have no choice. We have been resourced. We have this mandate to work on emerging diseases. We have the knowledge. We know that vaccines work. Vaccines matter.”
Important information and updates relevant to the University community will be posted at emergency.pitt.edu
For student health concerns: Pitt Student Health Service
For those traveling or abroad: Pitt Global Operations Supporttravel advisories