Carnegie Mellon University
August 24, 2020

Chief Medical Officer Discusses Return to Campus

By Michael Henninger

Jason Maderer
  • Marketing and Communications
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Wear a mask. Practice social distancing. Avoid touching the face. Wash hands with soap and water.

These are the four main steps to having a safe and productive fall semester, according to Dr. Christine Andrews, the chief medical officer at Carnegie Mellon University. As students prepare to return for a hybrid fall semester, pairing in-person classes with remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Andrews and the staff at University Health Services are readying coronavirus testing protocols.

Students returning to campus must sign a pledge called "A Tartan's Responsibility," a document outlining individual obligations aimed at stopping the communal spread of coronavirus. Among those outlined, like wearing a mask and social distancing, is a 14-day quarantine upon returning to CMU.

"The risk for exposure is going to be the highest while people are traveling," Andrews said, additionally noting that some students would be traveling from high-risk areas. "That's why we are testing all students three days after they arrive on campus."
Once the semester is underway, Andrews said that her staff will have the capacity to test many students per day. These tests will be for students who are exhibiting coronavirus symptoms.

Students will be required to fill out a daily symptom tracker called the Daily Self-Assessment, a simple online questionnaire with three yes or no questions. The tracker serves as a first line of defense against spread. Students will receive a text and email reminder each day. Faculty and staff will use a similar version of the Self-Assessment with four yes or no questions.

The Daily Self-Assessment asks if students are experiencing symptoms such as fever, shortness of breath, cough, body aches or loss of sense of smell or taste. It also asks if they have been exposed to anyone who has tested positive for coronavirus in the past 14 days. If the student's answers suggest they need additional screening, they are asked to contact University Health Services. If a faculty or staff member shows answers that reflect a possible infection, they will be directed to contact their primary care provider.

"We all need to do our part," Andrews said. "We have staff, faculty and students who are at higher risk medically. If everyone agrees to what we're asking, we can help maintain a safer environment in the fall.

Coronavirus isn't the only illness Andrews and her staff are prepping for.

"Fall is also flu season, and I can't stress strongly enough how important it is to get a flu shot," Andrews said. "The flu is spread the same way as COVID-19, and shares some of the same symptoms. It will make diagnosing COVID-19 more difficult. We shouldn't be using access to emergency rooms for a preventable disease like influenza. We need that access for people with COVID-19. I encourage everyone to get a flu shot when they become available."

While the fall semester will be different, Andrews said that with the proper actions, the CMU community will decrease viral spread tremendously.

"This is a public health crisis, and we need to be good citizens," Andrews said. "I'm still doing my job, seeing patients, and I feel safe doing it. I feel like wearing masks and keeping six feet apart is the best protection that we can ask for."

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