Pitt and Drexel change plans for in-person classes

Back to School

The Cathedral of Learning, a landmark listed in the National Register of Historic Places, stands on the University of Pittsburgh’s main campus Tuesday, May 31, 2016, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Bill Sikes)

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Two big universities in Pennsylvania, the University of Pittsburgh and Drexel University, changed plans for in-person instruction this fall, as a top Pitt official on Wednesday admonished students in a stark warning about partying and ignoring social distancing.

Pitt’s decision to delay the start of in-person instruction came just a few days before it was to start Monday. Online-only classes began Wednesday and students moved into dorms last week. Now, in-person instruction is delayed until Sept. 14.

“Over the past few days, I have been alerted by students, parents and community members that a large number of students are holding and attending parties without wearing face coverings and without observing physical distancing guidelines,” the dean of students, Kenyon Bonner, wrote in a message to students. “Let me be clear: Your behavior is threatening a successful fall term for all of us.”

Across the state in Philadelphia, Drexel University canceled in-person instruction for undergraduates for the fall quarter, with university officials saying they changed their minds after watching the difficulties at other large universities that have brought students back to campus.

It closed housing and will conduct all undergraduate academic courses remotely, except for some clinical programs in the College of Nursing and Health Professions, Drexel said.

Some smaller private colleges in Pennsylvania, including Lafayette College and Dickinson College, and several state-owned universities have also made the decision to go remote this fall.

The changes at Pitt and Drexel came a day after Carnegie Mellon University said its fall semester would begin online only for undergraduates.

Pitt Provost Ann Cudd told the campus in an email that the schedule adjustment will allow students to start in-person classes at the same time after they complete a staged arrival and shelter-in-place procedures. About 29,000 students attend Pitt’s main campus.

Pitt had said earlier this summer that it will offer certain classes through both in-person and remote instruction. Carnegie Mellon University has said it will offer a hybrid model in which some classes will be conducted strictly online while others will be offered through both in-person and remote instruction.

Pitt initially reported low rates of infection based on early tests of students who arrived on campus.

At Drexel, President John Fry said it had exceeded the Philadelphia Department of Public Health’s guidelines to reopen.

But, while local coronavirus conditions have improved recently, “we are seeing incredibly troubling trends,” Fry wrote on the university’s website. “There are reports of nationwide campus-based disease outbreaks and cases rising among college-age individuals. Such reports are on the rise exponentially and they greatly concern us.”

Drexel has a responsibility to everyone in the campus community and people living nearby, Fry said.

“What we see happening across the nation on university campuses — outbreaks coupled with high rates of quarantine and isolation — we do not want to happen here,” Fry wrote.

In other coronavirus-related developments in Pennsylvania:

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SENATOR SEEKS MASK REVERSAL

The chairman of the state Senate Education Committee had a request of Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine at the end of a hearing on schools reopening Wednesday — reverse the requirement that schoolchildren wear masks.

Sen. Wayne Langerholc, R-Cambria, told Levine it would build good will.

“My simple request first is walk back the mandate of the masks,” Langerholc said, then offered words of support to school officials making tough decisions about reopening in-person learning this fall.

“No matter what happens, no matter what decisions we make from a local level, someone will challenge it or someone will question it,” Langerholc said, urging them to “do what you’ve prepared for for months.”

The Wolf administration this week said it was clarifying that masks must be worn in school, even when students and educators are 6 feet apart.

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NURSING HOME OUTBREAK

A National Guard assessment team was sent Wednesday to a central Pennsylvania nursing home where 13 have died in about two weeks, state health officials said.

Health Secretary Rachel Levine announced in a release that a new temporary manager was installed at the Milton Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Milton, putting it under state control for “deficiencies.”

The state reported at least 109 COVID-19 cases at Milton Nursing and Rehabilitation since Aug. 3. Geisinger Health System has been at the Milton home since Aug. 4 to help with COVID-19 procedures, the Health Department said.

The Guard team was being sent to do an assessment and help with protective equipment. Another group from the National Guard was expected on Thursday to “provide 24-hour staffing support for the next five days,” including housekeeping and food services.

A woman answering the company number after hours said no one was available for comment.

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