Pitt adds 13 new COVID-19 cases since Tuesday

By Jon Moss, Editor-in-Chief

Pitt added 13 new COVID-19 cases, composed of three students and 10 employees, between Tuesday and Thursday, with 10 students currently in isolation. The University’s previous case report, covering last Thursday to Monday, included 12 cases. Pitt will release its next case update on Jan. 5.

This is the tenth 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 since last Friday, Quest had processed an additional 403 tests, bringing the total number of tests to 3,527. Out of the 403 tests, 12 were positive, leading to a total of 70 positives, or a 2% positivity rate. The CMRO said the rate is “slightly higher than what we observed with on-campus surveillance testing over the fall term but unsurprising given the national trend.”

The CMRO also said with few people on campus due to winter break, “there is very little evidence of the virus.” But the office added that it is concerned about the spread of the virus in the communities of some of Pitt’s regional campuses.

“Counties that are home to our regional campuses are particularly concerning, with positivity rates exceeding the rate of infection reported for the state in some areas,” the office said. “We expect high positivity rates to continue in our communities into the new year.”

The office added that it is working with state and local officials to acquire vaccines and plan for distribution within the Pitt community. The federal government approved emergency use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine late last week, and approval for a second vaccine, by Moderna, could arrive by the end of this week.

“Pitt has assembled a multidisciplinary team to prepare for the time when the vaccine is available to the University, and we will keep you posted with new developments.,” the office said.

The University has had 800 students and 122 employees test positive since June 26, with 790 students and 92 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 later said 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 86 students without COVID-19 symptoms randomly tested on Tuesday, and 67 students tested Wednesday, there were no positive cases, leading Pitt’s total prevalence rate to decrease slightly from 0.43% to 0.42%.

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.