Pitt adds 20 new COVID-19 cases since Thursday, will release more spring details ‘later this week’

By Jon Moss, Editor-in-Chief

Pitt added 20 new COVID-19 cases, composed of 14 students and six employees, between last Friday and Monday, with 19 students currently in isolation. The University’s previous case report, covering last Tuesday to Thursday, included 18 cases.

This is the third case report of 2021 and arrives one week before the spring semester will begin on Jan. 19. The report also arrives after the Allegheny County Health Department and state health officials have continued to report soaring case numbers. According to hospital data compiled by The New York Times, around 89% of ICU beds in the Pittsburgh area are currently occupied, compared with 81% statewide and 79% nationally. UPMC Shadyside is at 104% capacity and has no ICU beds remaining.

After asking students to not travel to Pittsburgh yet for the spring semester, Pitt’s COVID-19 Medical Response Office said it will provide further information later this week about travel guidance and restrictions, COVID-19 testing requirements, shelter-in-place guidance and the spring term schedule.

The office also said it is working with state and local officials to acquire vaccines and plan for distribution within the Pitt community. The federal government has approved two vaccines thus far — one by Pfizer-BioNTech and another by Moderna.

It is working with the Allegheny County Health Department and UPMC to vaccinate “a limited number of members of Pitt’s Health Sciences community in priority group 1A, who are engaged in patient care.”

“We are actively planning for the day that we are permitted to directly distribute the vaccine to Pitt faculty, students and staff,” the office said.

The CMRO also said while there are fewer people on campus due to winter break, the virus is “still present.”

“Cases remain high in the region, and continued vigilance is important,” the office said.

The University has had 839 students and 159 employees test positive since June 26, with 820 students and 148 employees recovered thus far.

There are 19 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 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 data on Pitt’s dashboard is from Dec. 16.

The University implemented a variety of new policies due to the pandemic during the fall semester, though some community members questioned 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.