COVID-19 at CMU weekly update: 9/18 - 9/24

On Sept. 22, the Carnegie Mellon community received an update email regarding COVID-19 on campus and news about upcoming booster clinics.

“The university’s approach this year is one of transition. We are monitoring the factors that influence campus spread, but are focusing on case severity as the thinking and guidance from the various public health agencies move in that direction,” Chief Information Officer and COVID-19 Coordinator Stan Waddell wrote to The Tartan.

Per the Carnegie Mellon COVID-19 dashboard, 98 percent of the campus community is vaccinated and 96 percent have received at least one booster shot. Carnegie Mellon currently requires individuals that have not been approved for an exemption to have the initial vaccination plus at least one approved booster. The University will be hosting clinics on Sept. 28, Oct. 24, and Nov. 15 for individuals to receive the new bivalent booster. This booster is designed to “provide broader protection against the virus, including its Omicron subvariants.” Flu vaccines are also available for members of the community.

When students came to campus last year, they were required to take two baseline tests; this requirement was not in place for this year. “We did discuss the baseline testing requirement. We elected to not require one for the start of the semester in accordance with changing guidance from the CDC and to be in alignment with many other higher education institutions,” Waddell said. “This being said, CMU continued to provide access to home testing kits and Tartan Testing was open and available for testing and many community members continue to take advantage of those options.”

This past week, Sept. 19 to Sept. 22, a total of 45 positive COVID-19 cases were reported according to the Carnegie Mellon public dataset. Of those, 29 were students and 16 were staff, faculty, and vendors.

“The case counts are higher this year than in previous years, but the campus community continues to report low levels of case severity. In fact, we have had no hospitalizations due to COVID since April of 2022. Also, data from the past couple of weeks indicate, positivity rates continue to drop in our observed testing (Tartan Testing and UHS),” Waddell wrote.

The campus community is still encouraged to take part in Tartan Testing. Between Sept. 19 and Sept. 21, a total of 92 Tartan Tests were completed; two people tested positive for a positivity rate of 2.17 percent. This is just under the previous week’s positivity percent of 2.34 percent. The COVID-19 dashboard did not reflect the data for the week of Sept. 19 as of Sept. 25; the numbers were only reported in the public dataset.

While masking is not required on campus, there are KN95 facial coverings and at-home test kits available in vending machines around campus.

However, per the policy established in the campus’ COVID-19 communication earlier this semester, isolation housing is no longer being provided by the University. This has prompted questions about students and faculty who have been deemed “close contact.”

“The university shifted to an "isolate in place" model of isolation and quarantine in April of 2022. Given what we learned from this approach during the 2022 spring and summer terms, members of our campus community can navigate a positive test result and recover in place effectively,” Waddell wrote. “This approach is similar to how residents have historically navigated communicable illnesses such as the flu or mononucleosis.”

Students should continue to attend class unless they have tested positive for COVID-19 or are experiencing symptoms. Students are also expected to report their positive result through the online self-reporting form on the University’s webpage.

In regards to how Carnegie Mellon has navigated the pandemic so far, Waddell says the University's response has been “highly effective.” He cites the University's use of data; testing resources through UHS, Tartan Testing, and at-home tests; staffing for medical care and contact tracing; and the University’s ability to be nimble as the strengths that has helped the University navigate through the pandemic.