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For COVID-19 policies, what is next for CMU?

Since the start of the fall semester, Carnegie Mellon has mandated vaccines and wearing facial coverings at all times indoors (unless eating or drinking) or outdoors when less than six feet apart. (credit: Photo Editor) Since the start of the fall semester, Carnegie Mellon has mandated vaccines and wearing facial coverings at all times indoors (unless eating or drinking) or outdoors when less than six feet apart. (credit: Photo Editor)

As Allegheny County’s COVID-19 numbers finally start to decline, but vaccine efficacy falls with it, what’s next for the university’s mitigation policies?

The pandemic’s fourth wave is finally receding. Here at Carnegie Mellon, the Tartan Testing results have continued to improve, with a positivity rate of less than one in 500. The seven-day average of new cases in Allegheny County is down 13.8 percent from the last week, and Pennsylvania’s cases are stable after a long surge. Nationally, virus cases are entering their third consecutive week of decline. Southern states — who saw the Delta variant explode earlier than those in the north, and where the condition began to improve earlier as well — are now looking at their lowest caseloads since late July, a potential harbinger of things to come. Cautious optimism is developing, and — just as in the spring — the light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter.

With the FDA only recommending booster shots to certain populations, it appears that most Carnegie Mellon students and staff will have to rely on their original shots. Yet at the same time, with campus COVID-19 tallies extremely low, those shots seem to be doing their job. So where does Carnegie Mellon go from here? Is there a risk of going remote, or is there possible light at the end of the tunnel with a relaxation of the mask mandate?

In an interview with The Tartan, Carnegie Mellon Chief of Staff and COVID-19 coordinator Daryl Weinert declined to give thresholds for the school going remote, saying that the university would “continue to use science-driven and evidence-based approaches to guide our mitigation efforts.” Weinert added that administrators will “consider many data points and the overall context of the Pittsburgh region” to guide policy about in-person classes. He also was hesitant to commit to any criteria for ending or continuing the mask mandate. “We continue to actively monitor the overall COVID landscape both regionally and nationally to inform and guide our facial covering protocols. As our community stabilizes following the start of the fall semester, we’ll reassess the continued requirement for facial coverings with the benefit of data and experience on vaccination rates, virus prevalence and the latest public health guidance,” Weinert said.

When asked about the potential for booster shots, Mr. Weinert sounded as though boosters for Carnegie Mellon students were likely to be a part of the mitigation plan. Weinert said that the University was preparing for a potential move by the CDC to approve booster doses for institutions with a high risk of virus transmission, such as universities. Weinert assured that the university was “preparing for campus support and delivery of COVID-19 booster shots as needed and will communicate further details as the medical guidance develops.”