EdBoard: CMU's current COVID policy
Returning to a dominantly in-person education model amidst the COVID-19 pandemic is a move fraught with danger for the university community. With students, faculty, and staff once again interacting within confined spaces, measures like testing, contact tracing, and quarantining have to be implemented and enforced to ensure that the risk of transmission from infected individuals is minimized. Add to this the usual difficulties associated with scheduling classes, ensuring operational dining services, and maintaining on-campus facilities, it becomes clear that the university administration has quite the task cut out for them.
Luckily, it seems that despite the challenges, the university’s internal protocols for handling COVID-19 cases have been successful at preventing an outbreak. Of course, there is always the fear that the semester may suddenly transition to online-only or hybrid modalities with little warning, but the fact that we are still on-campus and quickly headed towards mid-semester is an indication that for the most part, the COVID-19 policies have done their job. A quick glance at the university’s COVID-19 dashboard confirms this: as of Oct. 4, the percentage of students, faculty, and staff that have been fully vaccinated is sitting at 95 percent, and the number of confirmed positive cases remains low across all categories. The Tartan Testing program has also identified very few positive asymptomatic cases, with a positivity rate of 0.16 percent as of the time of this writing.
Yet, as we are constantly reminded, vigilance is key when it comes to COVID-19 prevention, and we cannot grow complacent with the status quo just because things are going well on campus. After all, the university does not exist in a vacuum; rather, we are a part of the greater Pittsburgh community, and visitors are common on campus — be it parents, prospective students, or just passersby. This influx presents a problem, because unlike students, faculty, and staff, the university cannot require vaccinations or testing, and instead must rely on the visitors themselves to attest to their vaccination or testing status.
We are not suggesting that people tend to lie about being vaccinated or testing negative, but given the number of people we interact with in our day-to-day lives, it’s impossible to be sure that every single person we come into contact with is negative. A test is only a snapshot in time, so even a negative test, if not recent enough, does not guarantee that a person is virus-free. Additionally, it has been found that those who are vaccinated can still transmit the virus, though it is at a far lower rate than in those who are unvaccinated.
Large volumes of visitors, therefore, present a risk to the health and well-being of the community, and with Family Weekend coming up, we will see many Carnegie Mellon families on campus. It is ultimately up to the university to enforce strict guidelines to ensure that the safety and security we have all worked so hard to maintain as a community is not compromised by visitors who may not be subject to our same standard of caution.
Aside from visitors, another area of concern is the lack of accessible information regarding contact tracing efforts. While resources like the COVID-19 dashboard give case counts and positivity rates, the university does not provide the students with any information regarding contact tracing. Basic definitions, such as what qualifies as close contact, are unclear, and this ambiguity is dangerous when dealing with transmissible diseases. Greater transparency on this front would help students better safeguard themselves and to seek help sooner if they suspect they have come in close contact, and this information would be a welcome addition to a resource like the COVID-19 dashboard. Furthermore, clearer guidance on what to do after you have been exposed would help students avoid risky behaviors after exposure that may put others at risk.
Overall, the university has done a good job at keeping COVID-19 contained and controlled on campus, but more can be done to ensure that our campus microcosm remains healthy and functional through the end of this pandemic. While the COVID-19 crisis is gradually winding down thanks to the increasing rates of vaccination, we must not falter in our testing, contact tracing, or quarantining efforts, as a lapse on our part could undo all our hard work from the past few semesters.