Pitt adds 17 new COVID-19 cases since Tuesday

By Jon Moss, Editor-in-Chief

Pitt added 17 new COVID-19 cases, composed of six students and 11 employees, between Tuesday and Thursday, with 10 students currently in isolation. The University’s previous case report, covering last Thursday to Monday, included 20 cases.

This is the eighth 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.

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.

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 since last Friday, Quest had processed an additional 436 tests, bringing the total number of tests to 3,124. Out of the 436 tests, 15 were positive, leading to a total of 58 positives, or a 1.9% positivity rate. The CMRO said the rate indicates “slightly higher rates of infection among asymptomatic students in the post-Thanksgiving period.”

The CMRO also said new employee cases are likely due to community spread of the virus, and reminded community members to abide by new state health orders taking effect Saturday.

“We all must do our part by staying home, avoiding in-person gatherings, wearing a face covering and practicing good hand hygiene,” the office said. “The value and impact of these simple acts cannot be overstated.”

The University has had 778 students and 107 employees test positive since June 26, with 753 students and 73 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. Officials said this week that additional information about spring move-in would not be available until at least Jan. 4.

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 120 students without COVID-19 symptoms randomly tested on Wednesday, and 65 students tested Thursday, there were no positive cases, leading Pitt’s total prevalence rate to decrease slightly from 0.44% to 0.43%.

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.