Update from Chancellor Gallagher for All Faculty and Staff (March 14, 2020)
On Wednesday, I announced a number of changes designed to allow the University of Pittsburgh to continue our mission while also supporting widescale social distancing to help address the urgent public health challenge associated with the spread of the novel coronavirus. Some of the steps we’ve recently taken include:
- eliminating all classroom-based instruction.
- canceling all in-person events exceeding 25 participants.
- eliminating all non-essential university domestic and international travel.
- canceling all athletics-related activities, including all organized competitions, practices and recruiting efforts.
- expanding sick leave for all employees by 10 additional days.
Despite these significant steps, it is important to emphasize that we have not closed the university. Instead, our actions aim to “de-densify” our work environment so that the University can continue operating and fulfilling our most important functions while prudently lowering the risk of infection within the university and to our surrounding communities.
I understand that this open-but-depopulated posture is new, unfamiliar and uncovered by existing policies. The emerging challenges associated with COVID-19 are also new and unfolding amid rising concerns about how this pandemic will impact us, our families and our loved ones. For all the changes we have already made, it’s important to note that new information or new actions by public health officials may require us to make further adjustments.
What can you do in this uncertain environment?
First, and most important, we should all practice healthy habits. This means skipping the hugs and handshakes, washing your hands frequently, maintaining a clean workspace, and covering your mouth if you must sneeze or cough. These seemingly small steps can be highly effective if we all do our part.
It also means staying home if you become ill, if you think you’ve been exposed to the virus or if you run a higher risk of falling ill due to your medical history. If you are staying home, please contact your supervisor so that we can make arrangements to cover your absence. We have also extended sick leave benefits to all employees so that your sick leave use is a covered benefit.
If you have recently traveled to a region with a high concentration of cases, you may need to practice social distancing before returning to work. Check our Office of Public Safety and Emergency Management website for current guidance.
Changes to the workplace environment:
We have granted supervisors additional flexibility to allow some employees to work from home. The goal is to enhance social distancing by lowering the number of employees who must be on the campus, but not all duties are compatible with working from home. It must be suitable for the duties and responsibilities of your position and must be approved by your supervisor.
For employees whose responsibilities require them to be on campus, we have asked supervisors to take reasonable steps to ensure that the work environment is consistent with the need to maintain social distance. This means different things for different jobs, but could include steps like staggering schedules, eliminating large meetings, etc. Please discuss any concerns about your work environment with your supervisor.
Managing a growing number of absent employees who cannot carry out their work is going to be a major challenge for supervisors. Even without large numbers of ill or infected employees, certain steps—like closing local schools—will have a significant impact on a large number of employees. If you will be impacted by the response to this outbreak, please be sure let your supervisor know as soon as you can. We have new tools to be as flexible as we can, but we can only help if we know.
We have also begun fielding a number of questions about additional steps, such as closing certain facilities to the public or closing some facilities and programs altogether. While these steps may be necessary at some point, they have the potential to significantly impact other parts of the University. For this reason, we are creating a process for deans and other leaders from Pitt’s business and operating units to raise concerns and recommend potential changes—and the sole approving authority rests with the university’s senior leadership team.
In this face of this rapidly evolving situation, I encourage everyone to remain flexible and stay informed. Please continue to check our Office of Public Safety and Emergency Management website and check in with your supervisor regularly.
I expect that we will need to pivot again—and again—in the coming days. Despite these disruptions and challenges, we will continue to make every effort to balance our role in addressing this public health emergency and carry out the most essential parts of our university’s mission.