CMU eases mask restrictions, cases stay high in Allegheny

On Nov. 8, Carnegie Mellon COVID-19 Coordinator and Vice President for Operations Daryl Weinert sent an email inspiring confidence and encouraging continued cautiousness within the university’s community. In a new step toward normalcy, Weinert wrote, “We are slightly adjusting the minimum requirements for facial coverings.” The relaxations were introduced in response to students, faculty, and staff reaching an overall vaccination rate of 98 percent.

Vaccinated students are no longer required to wear facial coverings in some residence hall spaces and community members can remain unmasked outside regardless of their proximity to others. Aside from eating, drinking, and being alone in an indoor space, masks continue to be required at all other times.

Carnegie Mellon’s pandemic response, led by Weinert, is a combined effort between Allegheny Health Network’s COVID-19 Physician Consultant Program and the university’s Emergency Preparedness and Response Team. The group, composed of 13 faculty members, has been meeting since 2020.

In the past two weeks, Allegheny County has seen a 16 percent increase in new cases. Hospitalizations have decreased by 13 percent over the same period. The recent spike in cases was discussed in a Nov. 10 briefing held by the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD), where Department Director Dr. Debra Bogen noted that October was the county’s “third-deadliest month since the start of the pandemic.”

“Pittsburgh City Paper” reported that “The county sees no indication that the numbers of cases will be dropping any time soon,” especially as temperatures drop, activities move inside, and the holidays (and with them, large gatherings) approach.

Though the county does not require employers to enforce vaccine mandates, many companies have instituted them. Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald encouraged “other companies and organizations to do the same. We’re in a war … with a virus that has taken many lives.” The county has reported 2,383 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto issued an executive order earlier this month requiring all city employees to be vaccinated by Dec. 22. 13 other large cities, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Chicago, instituted the same policy.

Following President Biden’s vaccine mandate for healthcare workers, chief marketing officers of a dozen regional healthcare systems signed off on inoculation requirements. Among these medical providers were AHN — where 84 percent of current employees are fully vaccinated — and UPMC.

The ACHD estimates that 74 percent of residents eligible for the vaccine have received at least one dose. Within the 15213 zip code — which includes Carnegie Mellon — the ACHD reported that 54 percent of people are fully vaccinated, an eight percent increase from September to October.

ACHD data shows that, across racial and ethnic demographics, women are more likely to be vaccinated than men. The report did not include data on nonbinary people. “Hispanic females are the highest vaccinated ethnicity and gender group” at 68 percent, according to the ACHD, “while Not Hispanic males tend to be the lowest vaccinated group” at 48 percent.

Vaccination efforts have been revived with the recent approval of booster shots. The CDC recommends that all adults who were immunized with Janssen/Johnson & Johnson receive the booster. It made the same recommendation for recipients of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines who are above 65 and/or an adult at higher risk for exposure or severe COVID-19 symptoms.