Pitt adds 74 new COVID-19 cases since Thursday

By Ashton Crawley and Jon Moss

Pitt added 74 new COVID-19 cases, composed of 73 students and one employee, between Friday and Monday, with 110 students currently in isolation. Tuesday’s case report includes more than double the 34 new cases, composed of 32 students and two employees, reported between last Tuesday and Thursday.

This is the first case report since the University moved to back the Elevated Risk posture and told students to shelter in place immediately on Monday. The University previously advised students to complete a 10-day shelter-in-place period starting Nov. 12 before leaving for Thanksgiving break, though Pitt will allow students to attend in-person classes and other academic activities.

The COVID-19 Medical Response Office said Allegheny County, local hospitals and the Pittsburgh campus are seeing a “significant” rise in cases. The office added that its contact tracing efforts indicate that the increase stems from “large-scale exposures at social engagements over Halloween weekend.”

“As things stand now, there is a significant risk of infecting loved ones who will be gathering for Thanksgiving in two weeks, which could be especially dangerous for vulnerable populations,” the office said. “This is cause for alarm — and heightened vigilance.”

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.

The University has had 478 students and 46 employees test positive since June 26, with 368 students and 40 employees recovered thus far.

There are 110 students currently isolating at home or in Pitt’s isolation housing, which is reserved for those who have either a confirmed or suspected COVID-19 infection. Pitt spokesperson Kevin Zwick said the University is using about 35% of its total isolation housing capacity, and did not directly respond to questions about how many beds make up that housing capacity.

Chris Bonneau, the president of the University Senate, said the situation is “very concerning” to him. He and Eric Macadangdang, the president of Student Government Board, both came out against Pitt’s mid-October move to lower its risk posture from Elevated to Guarded.

“I never thought we should have moved down,” Bonneau said. “Just because we’re having success doesn’t mean we can loosen up — that success means that our vigilance is working.”

Bonneau added that his “big fear” is that “campus turns into a superspreader when we send everyone home for Thanksgiving.”

“I think that would be the worst possible outcome for the semester … and I’m hopeful we can avoid that,” Bonneau said. “For me, I’d rather shut everything down — go to [the High Risk posture] — and maximize our chances that that’s not what we do.”

Pitt has been using the new Flex@Pitt teaching model, which allows students to experience classes “in person, remotely, synchronously or asynchronously.” Provost Ann Cudd announced Sept. 30 that the Flex@Pitt model will continue into the spring semester as the pandemic continues, and the spring will have an adjusted schedule.

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 266 students without COVID-19 symptoms randomly tested last Wednesday, two were positive, slightly increasing Pitt’s total prevalence rate from 0.31% to 0.33%.

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 said Pitt would not track whether or not students had 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.