Pitt adds 8 new COVID-19 cases since Thursday, detects UK variant on campus

By Martha Layne, Assistant News Editor

Pitt added eight new COVID-19 cases, composed of six students and two employees, between last Friday and Monday, with 39 students currently in isolation. The University’s previous case report, covering last Tuesday to Thursday, included 38 cases.

This is the fourth case report since Pitt moved to the Guarded Risk posture 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, about 80% of ICU beds in the Pittsburgh area are currently occupied, compared with 76% statewide and 70% nationally. UPMC Shadyside is at 86% capacity and has 26 ICU beds remaining.

The COVID-19 Medical Response Office said cases have increased after two consecutive weekends where students gathered in large numbers. The office also said the highly transmissible U.K. variant of COVID-19, B.1.1.7, is present on campus, prompting concerns. 

The CMRO also said the University is working on a vaccine distribution plan and has received a shipment of 500 vaccines, which are being made available to custodial, food service, security and transportation employees in the 1A phase. A small number of these available vaccines are also being offered to members of neighboring communities. Volunteers are needed, especially those with a clinical background, to help with the Allegheny County vaccine clinics at the Petersen Events Center.

The CMRO still encouraged those who are offered a COVID-19 vaccine to take it and not to wait until Pitt has more vaccines. For those who are vaccinated, the CMRO said they must remain vigilant because the pandemic is still ongoing, many are not vaccinated yet and there is still uncertainty about transmission of COVID-19 after vaccination.

The University has had 1,096 students and 216 employees test positive since June 26, with 1,057 students and 210 employees recovered thus far.

There are 39 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, which involves testing several hundred students each week on Mondays and Wednesdays. The most recent random testing session on Pitt’s data dashboard is from last Thursday, March 18. 

The University implemented a variety of new policies due to the pandemic during the spring semester, though some community members question whether the safeguards are sufficient. Students needed to have a negative COVID-19 test before moving back to campus and were encouraged to shelter in place at least seven days before moving in. Once on campus, students were required to shelter in place again for at least 10 days or until the CMRO announced that it was safe to move about campus. Students could attend classes during this time. Pitt has 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, 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.