“No change” in university protocols despite rising coronavirus cases in Allegheny County

Written By Jordyn Hronec, Editor-in-Chief

This past week, cases of the novel coronavirus in Allegheny County reached an all-time high, with over 2,000 new positive cases being reported.


However, the university is not planning on changing its COVID-19 protocols at this time.


“We continue to have weekly meetings with the Allegheny County Health Department and UPMC,” President Paul Hennigan said. “They do see a little bit of an increase in positive cases at Point Park, but not much, so that’s a good thing. So there is no change in our protocols, other than we continue our weekly discussions with the Allegheny County Health Department. Well, they have daily discussions. Student Affairs has a daily discussion with the medical provider, UPMC.”


This is in contrast to the measures taken by the University of Pittsburgh, who last week announced that a “shelter in place,” measure was being enacted on its Oakland campus, where students would only be permitted to leave their dorms in certain instances, such as to attend class. This measure was put in place after a significant increase in COVID-19 cases on campus occurred following the Halloween weekend.


“If UPMC told us on a given day that we needed to issue the shelter in place directive, we would absolutely do that,” Hennigan said. “They just don’t see the circumstances right now in our daily meetings to suggest that we need to do that, but we’re aware of what Pitt is doing, UPMC is very aware of what Pitt is doing, but we’ll do what we’re told to do.”


“I am so unaffected by university decisions as a part-time student who already attended all of her classes virtually and needs to work in high-risk retail,” Alexa Lake, a student at the University of Pittsburgh and a former student at Point Park, said. “It [shelter in place] has no bearing on me. My two cents are that campus should have never reopened.”


The university is sticking with its plan for all classes, including finals, to be remote after Thanksgiving break next week. Also, winter break will last for a week longer than usual, and spring break has been cancelled.


According to the campus dashboard, as of Monday, Nov. 16, there have been 39 positive cases of COVID-19 identified amongst university commuter students, residential students and employees, with 9 of the cases being residential students.


“I give a lot of credit to our students,” Hennigan said. “I don’t underestimate the value of the student contribution here.”


“I think only eight or so of the positive cases have been students who are living in residences,” university spokesman, Lou Corsaro, said in an interview on Nov. 11. “Which kind of indicates, you know the other students, the commuters, are going to have a lot of other exposures that aren’t related to us, so I think the fact that there’s only eight student residents says a lot about how the students have behaved on campus, for sure.”


Some students though, still have concerns, especially as the cases in Allegheny County are on the rise.


“I wish that there was both more communication and vigilance with mask wearing,” Katie LaBelle, a senior multimedia student, said. “It’s really upsetting feeling like my university doesn’t care because they have barely communicated with us and I see students without masks all the time. They should absolutely be doing more.”


LaBelle also described their concerns regarding COVID-19 and their upcoming graduation in December.


“Since this is my last semester and I have to move out, I’m really worried that I will be carrying COVID-19 and give it to vulnerable family members,” LaBelle said. “I can’t get tested, however, because Point Park doesn’t do testing on campus, and I don’t have any symptoms.”


The campus dashboard was updated on Saturday, Nov. 14 to include a note urging students who have tested positive for COVID-19 or who have been exposed to COVID-19 to call the Student Health Center. However, students are only able to get tested through the Health Center if they have symptoms. Students who have been exposed, though, can use the university’s quarantine spaces. 


The Allegheny County Health Department is reporting that there have been 20,526 total cases of COVID-19 in the county, with 459 deaths as of Monday, Nov. 16. Allegheny County is no exception to the rising cases that are occurring nationwide, as the states of Texas and California just surpassed the 1 million cases mark.


In response to the rising number of cases, many state officials like Governor Tom Wolf and Secretary of Health, Dr. Rachel Levine, have urged citizens of the commonwealth to download and use the “COVID Alert PA” app, which alerts users if they have come in contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus. 


On Monday, Nov. 16, there were 42,290 check-ins registered on the app with 4% of the total number of check-ins reporting some symptoms.