Pitt adds 22 new COVID-19 cases since Thursday

By Martha Layne, Assistant News Editor

Pitt added 22 new COVID-19 cases, composed of 17 students and five employees, between last Friday and Monday, with 34 students currently in isolation. The University’s previous case report, covering last Tuesday and Thursday, included 26 cases.

This is the spring semester’s third case report and arrives after the Allegheny County Health Department and state health officials have continued to report high case numbers. According to hospital data compiled by The New York Times, around 84% of ICU beds in the Pittsburgh area are currently occupied, compared with 80% statewide and 79% nationally. UPMC Shadyside is at 90% capacity and has 22 ICU beds remaining.

Pitt’s COVID-19 Medical Response Office said on Jan. 13 that students living on campus can plan to move into their dorms beginning in late January on one of four dates — Jan. 29, Jan. 31, Feb. 3 or Feb. 5. The office also released shelter-in-place guidance and testing requirements for students.

The CMRO said it appears students who are moving into on-campus housing this week are taking COVID-19 precautions seriously, as there is about a 1% positivity rate among the submitted at-home Quest tests. To date, about 40% of students living in on-campus housing have submitted their at-home test and have received their results.

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The CMRO also said the University is working on a vaccine distribution plan and updates will be provided as they are available. According to the email from the CMRO, a survey will be sent out to Pitt community members this week to learn about their vaccination needs. The results will help the CMRO operate more efficiently once vaccines have arrived and are available to be administered. The CMRO also encourages those who are offered a COVID-19 vaccine to take it and not to wait until Pitt has its own supply of vaccines. 

The University has had 902 students and 169 employees test positive since June 26, with 868 students and 161 employees recovered thus far.

There are 34 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. Out of 69 students without COVID-19 symptoms randomly tested on Wednesday, one was positive, leading Pitt’s total prevalence rate to increase slightly from 0.43% to 0.44%.

The University implemented a variety of new policies due to the pandemic during the spring semester, though some community members questioned whether the safeguards are sufficient. Students will move into dorms in four cohorts, beginning in late January and continuing into early February. They need to have a negative COVID-19 test before moving back to Pittsburgh. Additionally, students are encouraged to shelter in place at least seven days before moving in. Once on campus, students are required to shelter in place again for at least 10 days or until the CMRO announces that it’s safe to move about campus. Students may attend classes during this time. 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.