Pitt adds 8 COVID-19 cases since Tuesday

By Rebecca Johnson, News Editor

Pitt added eight new COVID-19 cases, composed of five students and three employees, between Tuesday and Thursday, with 14 students currently in isolation. The University’s previous case report, covering last Friday to Monday, included 13 cases.

This is the spring semester’s eighth case report and arrives after all on-campus students have finished moving into their dorms. Pitt’s COVID-19 Medical Response Office released shelter-in-place guidance and testing requirements for students. Faculty and staff also have access to mail-in tests if they meet certain criteria.

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, about 78% of ICU beds in the Pittsburgh area are currently occupied, compared with 78% statewide and 76% nationally. UPMC Shadyside is at 80% capacity and has 40 available ICU beds.

The CMRO said in a Friday evening email that the student case count and isolation capacity are “holding steady,” but because case numbers in the surrounding region are decreasing yet still relatively high, people should remain “vigilant.”

The University has had 946 students and 188 employees test positive since June 26, with 932 students and 174 employees recovered thus far.

There are 14 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 implemented a systematic, random testing strategy, which involves testing several hundred students each week on Mondays and Wednesdays inside Posvar Hall. Out of 336 students without COVID-19 symptoms randomly tested on Monday, none were positive, decreasing Pitt’s total spring prevalence rate from 0.26% to 0.20%. The Student Health Center also now has the capacity to test 300 symptomatic students per day.

Pitt is still awaiting approval from the state to be an independent vaccine provider, which would allow the CMRO to provide its own guidelines about what students, faculty and staff are next in line to receive a vaccine based on guidance from ACHD and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said in an interview with The Pitt News that if Pitt gets certified as an independent vaccine provider, then the University would like to open several vaccination sites for students and employees, but also potentially serve as an open regional vaccination center for the Pittsburgh area.

The University also 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 moved 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 on campus.

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 also planned testing of students to monitor the virus’ 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.