Campus events and COVID

With the COVID-19 pandemic still raging and vaccines not widely available for college students, on-campus events at Carnegie Mellon have been missing from common spaces. For the events that have continued, the responsibilities of both students and staff in managing these events have escalated.

One of the simplest parts of Carnegie Mellon's strategy has been to advise against gathering on campus. In a notice effective Feb. 27, Carnegie Mellon "strongly discouraged" in-person gatherings among students. "Under no circumstances should students host or attend in-person gatherings where physical distancing cannot be maintained at all times," it read. Students and staff also have new responsibilities meant to keep the few approved on-campus buildings safer.

Marcia Gerwig, director of the Cohon University Center (CUC), detailed some of these new duties in an interview. Staff are required to wipe down equipment between classes held at the CUC, in addition to cleaning the facility overnight. CUC staff must also ensure that there are face coverings and hand sanitizer at entrances and the information desk. Visitors are also expected to abide by campus-wide rules, like wearing a mask, but the building is only accessible with a Carnegie Mellon ID, and it is closed from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. for cleaning. Tartan Testing also distributes test kits out of the CUC, and parts of the CUC, like Wiegand Gymnasium and the weight and exercise rooms, have their own occupancy limits.

When asked what was different about her job since the pandemic started, Gerwig responded, "The biggest change, really, is there are much fewer people in the building." She added, "It's like the summer population, like very few students." While there have been fewer students at the CUC, the building still hosts some club activities, like dance groups. Still, she said, "A lot of times even the in-person classes where we have room reserved for classes to be held are held remote and students don't come to the building."

Some classes are offering in-person instruction, but students can only attend a maximum of 30 to 40 percent of their hybrid classes in person. Student organizations are required to hold their meetings remotely, and, for indoor activities that clubs want to hold, there are minimum square footage requirements. Student organizations also must designate Student Pandemic Safety Ambassadors (SPSAs) whose responsibilities include enforcing "expectations and requirements" and attending any in-person activities held by their organizations. For clubs to hold in-person events, their SPSAs must apply and have their proposed event reviewed.

For Gerwig, the lack of people and the new rules have meant "the few students we do interact with is to explain COVID requirements and COVID policy." She added, "The groups that are in here require more scrutiny just to make sure that they're following procedure."

Gerwig acknowledged, "What we're about is people coming here to just hang out in the Cohon Center, and we can't do that anymore." Still, she emphasized that the CUC staff is still available to support students.