Pitt added four new COVID-19 cases, composed of two students and two employees, as of Friday’s weekly case report. The University has had a total of 27 students and 16 employees test positive since June 26, with 24 students and nine employees recovered thus far.
The University’s slight uptick in cases comes as Allegheny County has seen a persistent surge in cases over the past few weeks, with a near-record high of 244 new cases reported Friday. The Oakland campus is still mostly empty, besides for six Pitt Athletics teams who returned last month for voluntary workouts.
But the neighborhood will not remain empty for long. Students will move into on-campus housing in 1,500 increments throughout August, with the first arrivals on Aug. 11. All students returning to Oakland are asked to shelter-in-place for seven days before and after arriving, though officials have said that Pitt will not track whether or not students have completed the shelter-in-place. Pitt has also planned testing of students to monitor the virus’ spread, required students, faculty and staff to complete COVID-19 training and imposed strict penalties for health guidelines violations.
Although Pitt is implementing the new Flex@Pitt teaching model, which allows students to experience classes “in person, remotely, synchronously or asynchronously,” it is unclear when in-person classes will begin. Officials would not commit on Thursday to a specific or estimated date for when fall classes will move from online only to in person. The fall semester will still begin remotely on Aug. 19, but the University previously said classes would transition to in-person instruction on Aug. 24.
Dr. John Williams, the head of Pitt’s COVID-19 Medical Response Office, said medical experts look at data on campus, City and county conditions to evaluate the local state of the COVID-19 pandemic. He said the decision to move the Oakland campus to the Guarded Risk posture is revisited “at least weekly.”
“We can’t really provide a definite date this far in advance without knowing what all of these data variables are going to do,” Williams said.
The quick succession of new policies arrive as some community members doubt whether the safeguards are sufficient, and increasing numbers of universities and school districts around the country have decided in-person instruction is not worth the risk. Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said in mid-July that he, too, was concerned about the state of the country at this point in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re watching the pandemic kind of move towards what a lot of us consider the worst-case scenario,” Gallagher said at the time. “It’s moving in the wrong direction, it’s widespread, it’s happening in our region and it’s causing a lot of uncertainty.”