PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – As the cases of COVID-19 rise on college campuses schools are desperately trying to hold off the virus and save their fall semesters.
A spike in cases forced WVU to move all classes online this week until at least September 25th.
Pitt extended its start of the year online until September 14th but even that is now in question after a number of cases on the Oakland campus.
All the schools want to avoid the fate of James Madison University in Virginia where at last count they had 1,065 cases since students returned to school.
That not only moved the school to online learning but sent most all the students home for the rest of the month.
Pitt’s Dean of Students Kenyon Bonner said in a video pleading with students: “We need to flatten the Pitt curve. The recent increases in COVID-19 cases on our campus is concerning. Most of those cases can be linked to students who live off-campus and have engaged in unhealthy and unsafe behavior.”
Dean Bonner spent part of the Labor Day Weekend walking the prime off-campus housing area of South Oakland.
“We saw a lot of you doing a really great job,” he said. “People had their face coverings on, people were hanging out on the porches in small groups and everyone was in good spirits. I appreciate you. But there were also students who were walking around without face covering and people, occasionally who were hanging out on porches or in their yards in larger crowds that are not safe. So, please, it’s important that you practice these behaviors at all times.”
WVU President Gordon Gee does not buy into the claims by many that the universities had to know these spikes would occur once the students returned.
Dr. Gee says if protocols and procedures had been followed the Morgantown campus would not be in the condition it is now in.
At Pitt, where the school recorded 37 new cases last Friday and 68 over the last week, Dean Bonner is concerned that students who are getting sick are not getting the help they need out of fear of retribution.
WATCH: Kenyon Bonner Addresses Student Body
“You have doctors and nurses who are here to take care of you,” Bonner said. “If one of our doctors advises that you get tested please get tested testing is one way that we can protect you and the people that you care about your family and friends. The contact tracers that we have, our doctors and our nurses, do not share your health information with the Office of Student Conduct, they do not share your information with me. We are more concerned about your health and well being than we are about kicking any student out of Pitt.”
Dean Bonner says the isolation housing the University has established is more like a communal housing with others who are also recovering from COVID-19.
“I’m concerned that some of you have turned down that offer in hopes of sort of hunkering down in your apartment into your houses with friends,” Bonner said. “That’s dangerous. It’s also reckless, so don’t infect others. Please take us up on the isolation housing. We provide meals for you. It’s free, and we have a doctor or nurse checking in with you, daily to make sure you’re okay.”
If a student is going to “hunker down” Dean Bonner advises: “If you live with others in a house off-campus, isolation means that you tend you stay totally separate from the folks that you live with. You’re not sharing the same rooms, you’re not sharing the same bathrooms, if possible, and you’re not hanging out and socializing. For as long as the doctors advise you to do that.”
While Pitt hopes to return to in-person classes after next Monday that decision is not final. No one knows what kind of a spike could come from the Labor Day Weekend parties and that could extend the online period.
The universities do not want to go down the path James Madison University took sending their students home.
Members of the White House Coronavirus task force led by Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx have both asked schools not to send students home for fear they will fan out across the country and cause massive further spread among family and friends back home.
Unless there is an awakening on college campuses and a dramatic change to student behavior the issue is only going to get worse. Dean Bonner finished his message to Pitt students with a plea.
“Please, folks, be vigilant. We all got to continue to work together. I know we can do this together. It’s really important that we do.”