Pitt adds 14 new COVID-19 cases during first week of move-in

By Ashton Crawley and Jon Moss

Pitt added 14 new COVID-19 cases, composed of 11 students and 3 employees, as of Monday’s weekly case report. The University has had a total of 42 students and 23 employees test positive since June 26, with 32 students and 19 employees recovered thus far.

The case report is the first since students began to move into on-campus housing last Tuesday. Students will continue to arrive in 1,500 increments throughout August. The University has implemented a systematic, random testing strategy, where it will test about 500 students each week. Out of 450 asymptomatic students randomly tested last week, 2 were positive, leading to a 0.44% positivity rate, compared to the state’s 4% rate. Four students are currently in on-campus isolation housing.

Dr. John Williams, the head of Pitt’s COVID-19 Medical Response Office, said the low rate of positivity doesn’t mean students, faculty and staff should let their guard down.

“We now have thousands of Pitt students on and off campus, and yet the number of positive cases, symptomatic or asymptomatic, is very low,” Williams said. “While this is encouraging, it is early. It is critical that we all maintain our preventive behaviors of wearing face coverings, staying physically distant and hand hygiene to keep the virus low.” 

Pitt has implemented a variety of new policies due to the pandemic, though some community members question whether the safeguards are sufficient. All students are asked to shelter-in-place for seven days before and after arriving in Oakland, 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 violations of health guidelines.

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 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 Wednesday, but the University previously said classes would transition to in-person instruction on Aug. 24.

Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said in an exclusive interview with The Pitt News that a decision to move classes fully online for the semester is “irreversible,” and instead opted to manage COVID-19’s “highly variable” risk by adapting to the situation as it evolves.

“I can’t say what the whole semester’s going to look like because I don’t have any more information than the medical professionals do,” Gallagher said. “What we’re going to do is follow their advice and what’s happening at the moment. If the medical team is saying they can’t say yet, then we can’t say yet.”

Gallagher added that in-person classes are not out of the question, if health conditions are appropriate and protective measures such as mask-wearing and social distancing are followed.

“There’s no reason to believe that can’t be done safely,” Gallagher said. “I think it is entirely plausible there will be in-person classes under the circumstances of our resiliency plan.”