Pitt investigating ‘increase in cases’ in Tower B, adds 6 other new COVID-19 cases


Wu Caiyi | Senior Staff Photographer

Pitt’s outdoor COVID-19 testing site is located outside Posvar Hall.

By Ashton Crawley and Jon Moss

Pitt is investigating an increase in student COVID-19 cases in Litchfield Tower B amid a larger dropoff in student cases, officials said late Friday evening.

Pitt spokesperson Pat McMahon said there have been nine positive cases reported between last Wednesday and this Friday in the Central Oakland residence hall. The University included five in Tuesday’s case report and two in Friday’s case report, but did not include the remaining two received Friday in Friday’s case report.

When asked whether the cases constitute a cluster, defined as a group of five or more cases that can be epidemiologically linked, McMahon said the University is still conducting contact tracing for the most recently reported cases to better understand if the Tower B cases are indeed linked.

“Nonetheless, in light of the common resident hall, we are proceeding cautiously and continuing our investigation,” McMahon said.

Data collected by The Pitt News. Original data collection by Ryan Yang, Online Visual Editor. Archival data by Spotlight PA and the Philadelphia Inquirer. Graph by Jon Moss, Editor-in-Chief.

Eric Macadangdang, the president of Student Government Board, said he did not receive any communication from the administration about the increase in cases, but is hopeful that the increase can be “contained.” He added that he has been pleased to see student cases decreasing overall.

“I have as much information as the [COVID-19 Medical Response Office] report gave on Friday,” Macadangdang said. “I am hopeful that … the people conducting the contract tracing and mitigation efforts are doing it well, so that students in Tower B are remaining safe.”

Macadangdang said it is “extremely important” to make sure students are part of the contact tracing process, and assist in these efforts if called upon.

“It only helps the community whenever people comply and take part in the process,” Macadangdang said.

McMahon said as a matter of practice, Pitt does not make “broad notifications” about situations that give the University “concern.” He added that “appropriate notifications” were made to members of the administration.

The University also announced six other new COVID-19 cases, composed entirely of students, between Monday and Thursday. Case numbers among Pitt students have seen steady single-digit increases each day for the past few weeks, down from higher numbers during the early part of the semester, with about 10 to 20 cases added per day.

Pitt’s COVID-19 Medical Response Office said in a Friday campus-wide email that Pitt community members must continue to hold each other accountable, wear face coverings, maintain a safe physical distance and keep new close contacts to a minimum.

“At this critical juncture, we have to be especially vigilant over the weekend,” the email said.

The University has had 289 students and 31 employees test positive since June 26, with 250 students and 30 employees recovered thus far. The last seven days have all seen single-digit increases in student cases, according to data reported by Pitt.

Friday’s case report is the sixth since more classes moved in person on Sept. 14. Provost Ann Cudd announced Sept. 9 that faculty members could apply to teach their classes in person if there is a “definable benefit” to in-person instruction and if an instructor’s dean or regional campus president approves teaching plans. Pitt has been using the new Flex@Pitt teaching model, which allows students to experience classes “in person, remotely, synchronously or asynchronously.”

Cudd announced last Wednesday that the Flex@Pitt model will continue into the spring semester as the pandemic remains ongoing, and the spring will have an adjusted schedule.

Pitt’s COVID-19 Medical Response Office said flu shots are extremely important this year.

“Students can schedule and get a free flu shot at Student Health Service,” the office said.

There are 39 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.

Pitt has implemented a systematic, random testing strategy, where it has said it will test several hundred students each week on Mondays and Wednesdays. Out of 203 students without COVID-19 symptoms randomly tested on Monday, there were no positive cases, not changing Pitt’s total prevalence rate of 0.38%.

McMahon said Pitt conducted surveillance testing at the Johnstown branch campus Wednesday, meaning no testing was done for the Pittsburgh campus on that day.

The University has implemented a variety of new policies due to the pandemic, though some community members question whether the safeguards are sufficient. All students were asked to shelter in place for seven days before and after arriving in Oakland, though officials have said 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’s spread, required students, faculty and staff to complete COVID-19 training and imposed strict penalties for violations of health guidelines.

Kenyon Bonner, the vice provost and dean of students, said student organizations who 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.