Pitt adds 20 new COVID-19 cases since Thursday

By Jon Moss, Editor-in-Chief

Pitt added 20 new COVID-19 cases, composed of 10 students and 10 employees, between last Thursday and Monday, with 10 students currently in isolation. The University’s previous case report, covering Nov. 23 to Thursday, included 112 cases.

This is the seventh case report since Nov. 9, 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 allowed students to attend in-person classes and other academic activities.

The case report also arrives after the Allegheny County Health Department and state health officials have continued to report soaring case numbers.

Students had access to at-home COVID-19 tests after they went home for Thanksgiving break, per a program run by Pitt’s COVID-19 Medical Response Office. The University partnered with testing company Quest Diagnostics to offer one optional, self-collected COVID-19 test to all students, if ordered by Nov. 30.

The COVID-19 Medical Response Office said last Thursday that Quest had processed 2,688 COVID-19 tests so far, with 43 positives, reflecting a 1.6% positivity rate. The CMRO said at the time that the rate “aligns with the surveillance testing trends we observed on our Pittsburgh campus over the last two weeks.”

Pitt spokesperson Kevin Zwick said Tuesday evening that the University could not provide an update on any further tests run through the Quest program because it did not “have those results available to report at this time.”

The CMRO also said new employee cases are likely due to community spread of the virus.

“It’s important to note that we have not observed an increased risk of transmission in our work environments,” the office said. “We continue to discuss safety precautions and consider testing for personnel who work closely with students or in higher-density areas.”

The University has had 757 students and 96 employees test positive since June 26, with 747 students and 70 employees recovered thus far.

There are 10 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.

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. The most recent random testing session on Pitt’s data dashboard is from Nov. 18.

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.