Pitt adds 54 new COVID-19 cases since Thursday

By Ashton Crawley and Jon Moss

Pitt added 54 new COVID-19 cases, composed of 50 students and four employees, between last Friday and Monday, with 99 students currently in isolation. This comes after an increase of 47 cases between Tuesday and Thursday.

This is the third case report since last Monday, when the University moved back to the Elevated Risk posture and told students to shelter in place immediately. 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 case report also arrives after the Allegheny County Health Department reported 527 new cases on Sunday, an all-time high after several days of record-shattering numbers of new cases. As of Tuesday, there are only 59 adult ICU beds left in the entire county, about 7.6% of capacity.

Students will have access to at-home COVID-19 tests after they go home for Thanksgiving break, Dr. John Williams, the head of Pitt’s COVID-19 Medical Response Office, said last Thursday afternoon. The University has partnered with testing company Quest Diagnostics to offer one optional, self-collected COVID-19 test to all students, if ordered between Monday and Nov. 30.

The COVID-19 Medical Response Office said students should continue to shelter in place and be careful over the holiday break.

“As we enter the holiday season and winter break, please opt for virtual visits instead of in-person gatherings with family and friends,” the office said. “It’s not how we’d prefer to do things, but the nationwide spike requires doubling down on virus mitigation measures.”

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 573 students and 52 employees test positive since June 26, with 474 students and 44 employees recovered thus far.

There are 99 students currently isolated 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 has a total of about 300 isolation beds, and about 20% are currently occupied.

The presidents of student and faculty governments have expressed concerns about the recent rise in cases. 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,” Chris Bonneau, the president of the University Senate, said Tuesday. “Just because we’re having success doesn’t mean we can loosen up — that success means that our vigilance is working.”

Eric Macadangdang, the president of Student Government Board, urged students on Tuesday to “please, please, please shelter in place, starting now.”

Chancellor Patrick Gallagher praised how closely most students have followed mitigation measures at last Thursday’s Senate Council meeting.

“I’m still quite impressed with our students and how seriously they’re taking this, but we did notice a modest increase,” Gallagher said.

Gallagher added that the University is “well within its capacity to respond” to the rise in cases.

“This is kind of exactly what we designed this for,” Gallagher said. “Nothing’s broken down yet.”

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 275 students without COVID-19 symptoms randomly tested last Wednesday, one was positive, not changing Pitt’s total prevalence rate of 0.36%.

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.