Five ways COVID-19 will continue to change Pittsburgh college life this spring

With COVID-19 cases rising following the holidays and an expected lengthy vaccine rollout, Pittsburgh-area colleges and universities are bracing for another difficult semester. How things will look for students and faculty this spring will be informed by lessons from the fall. “The whole thing has been a real challenge for everybody, but I believe that the response from the students and the faculty and the administration has really made the best of this particular time,” said Susan O’Rourke, faculty senate chair at Carlow University. Colleges are readjusting schedules to start the spring semester later, expanding COVID-19 testing, asking for student input on the fall semester and creating connections with classmates and professors — both online and in-person. Meanwhile, they face challenges like tighter budgets and deflated enrollment. 

The University of Pittsburgh, for instance, has been monitoring case metrics and advice from health officials in deciding when to bring thousands of students back to campus.

Outside of the Allegheny County Jail building

‘It almost broke me.’ How the pandemic is straining mental health at Allegheny County Jail.

No personal visitors, hardly any time for inmates outside of their cells and chronic vacancies in mental health and health staff raise concerns that the mental health of Allegheny County Jail [ACJ] inmates is deteriorating, according to inmates recently incarcerated there, family members of current inmates, advocates and current and former ACJ staff.  

Tote bags with census resources for residents. (Courtesy photo from Josiah Gilliam/ City of Pittsburgh)

COVID-19 disrupted the census. But accurate counts are needed to guide aid, recovery efforts and maybe even vaccines.

For almost two years, the City of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County have been working together to intensively prepare for the 2020 census. The hardest-to-count populations were identified for targeted outreach; community leaders were pulled in to champion the cause; “census hubs,” where residents could go to have their questions answered, were planned throughout the county. 

Perhaps the one thing they didn’t plan for was a pandemic. “We had 150 designated locations throughout the county ready to go, and then the pandemic hit,” said Jessica Mooney, the county’s manager of special projects. Now, getting a complete count is not only harder — it’s also more vital. Census data dictates federal funding levels to local and state governments for food access programs, affordable housing, health systems and more.

A brown haired toddler with a tracheotomy wears a hospital gown covered in panda bears as he sits on a hospital bed.

COVID-19 could kill my toddler. Stay home for him and others with underlying health conditions.

By necessity, I have to pay very close attention to what is going on in the world of infectious disease as the parent of a medically complex child. In the weeks leading up to COVID-19 reaching pandemic status, I began to circle the wagons, knowing that despite whatever measures were taken, we were going to have to go back into isolation.