Pitt adds 56 new COVID-19 cases since Tuesday

By Ashton Crawley and Jon Moss

Pitt added 56 new COVID-19 cases, composed of 48 students and 8 employees, between Tuesday and Thursday, with 78 students currently in isolation. This comes after an increase of 54 cases between last Friday and Monday.

This is the fourth 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 a record 620 new cases on Wednesday, an all-time high after several days of record-shattering numbers of new cases. As of Friday, there are 108 adult ICU beds left across the county, about 13.2% 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 Pitt is nearing the end of the term, but data worldwide indicate that we’re nowhere near the end of the pandemic.

“We strongly encourage virtual visits instead of in-person gatherings in the weeks ahead,” the office said. “In an effort to reduce the number of potential close contacts, travelers coming to pick up students should remain in their vehicle, when possible, while on campus. In most cases, no guests, including parents, will be permitted inside residence halls or campus facilities.”

The CMRO added that students should continue to shelter in place, wear a face covering, practice safe physical distancing, minimize your number of new close contacts and wash their hands.

“We know that you can do it, because we have watched you embrace these strategies—and excel at them—all term long,” the office said.

The office also said contact tracing is still underway for newly reported employee cases. So far, the office said, no “discernible connection” has been found among the cases with “no evidence” that work-related transmission has occurred.

The University has had 621 students and 60 employees test positive since June 26, with 543 students and 14 employees recovered thus far.

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.

There are 78 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 has a total of about 300 isolation beds, and University spokesperson Pat McMahon said about 12% 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. “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 to “please, please, please shelter in place.”

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 246 students without COVID-19 symptoms randomly tested Monday, four were positive, changing Pitt’s total prevalence rate from 0.36% to 0.41%.

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.