Pitt adds 11 cases after first week of online classes

By Rebecca Johnson, News Editor

Pitt added 11 new COVID-19 cases, composed of eight students and three employees, as of Monday’s weekly case report. The University has had a total of 50 students and 26 employees test positive since June 26, with 39 students and 21 employees recovered thus far.

The case report is the second since students began to move into on-campus housing on Aug. 11. Students will continue to arrive in increments of 1,500 throughout August. The University has implemented a systematic, random testing strategy, where it will test about 500 students each week. Out of 776 asymptomatic students randomly tested on Aug. 16-17 and Aug. 20-21, none were positive, leading Pitt’s total prevalence rate to fall to .16%. This is a substantial decrease from the 0.44% prevalence rate reported on Aug. 17.

The Pitt News published a thread on Twitter explaining inconsistencies in August case numbers. According to data compiled by the newspaper throughout the month, it appeared as though there had been 23 student cases and 12 faculty cases, whereas Pitt reported 14 student cases and eight faculty cases on its dashboard.

Pitt spokesperson Kevin Zwick said the discrepancy is a result of the University changing how it reports results. Previously, COVID-19 tests were dated when they were administered, but are now dated when Pitt receives them.

There are 11 students currently in isolation housing, which is reserved for those who have either a confirmed or suspected COVID-19 infection. Pitt has a capacity of 179 beds, with the ability to add 20 more.

Dr. John Williams, the head of Pitt’s COVID-19 Medical Response Office, said he’s encouraged by the low COVID-19 case numbers on campus, but said it’s important for students to continue with all mitigation precautions.

“Our students are great, and these numbers tell us that they have done what we asked them to do,” Williams said. “It’s very important for students to keep doing what they’ve been doing — masks and distance.”

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 period. 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.

Kenyon Bonner, vice provost and dean of students, said student organizations that host a party or event can face suspension, and students hosting large parties can be suspended. Students living on campus who attend large parties can have their housing suspended for the semester, and students living off campus can be switched to persona non grata status, preventing them from entering University buildings or property.

Pitt has temporarily suspended nine Greek life organizations — a quarter of all chapters active before the pandemic — for alleged conduct violations. The University’s Office of Compliance, Investigation and Ethics has received 144 reports of COVID-related concerns as of last Thursday.

“Your actions have consequences,” Bonner said. “If you want to experience campus life as well as in-person classes this semester, then support the health and well-being of the members of our community with your actions.”

Although Pitt is implementing the new [email protected] teaching model, which allows students to experience classes “in person, remotely, synchronously or asynchronously,” it extended online learning until at least Sept. 14 to allow for all students to start in-person classes at the same time. 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.”

Contributed reporting by Jon Moss.

Editor’s note: Pitt spokesperson Kevin Zwick originally said Monday night that COVID-19 tests are now dated based on when they were administered, not when Pitt received them. He said Tuesday morning that the new policy is actually the reverse — COVID-19 tests are now dated based on when Pitt receives them, not when they were administered.