Pitt adds 50 COVID-19 cases since Tuesday, urges students to get tested

By Martha Layne and Jon Moss

Pitt added 50 new COVID-19 cases, composed of 44 students and six employees, between Tuesday and Thursday, with 105 students currently in isolation. The University’s previous case report, covering last Friday to Monday, included 48 cases.

This is the third case report since Pitt moved back to the middle Elevated Risk posture and enacted a shelter-in-place last Thursday. These stricter measures followed a “consistent increase” in positive cases among students and the detection of the variant first detected in the U.K., B.1.1.7, on campus. Pitt’s COVID-19 Medical Response Office reported early last week that 13 residence halls had reported cases of COVID-19.

The CMRO said in a Friday evening email that cases are “continuing to hold steady,” and the office is seeing cases in students living both on and off campus, as well as residence hall infections that are “more widespread” than numbers seen in the fall. Kenyon Bonner, the vice provost and dean of students, previously said he is worried about the impact of the state’s loosened restrictions on bar and restaurant capacity, which began last Sunday.

“We are expanding testing opportunities on campus but to reduce transmission within the student population we need everyone to maintain strict adherence to the mitigation measures,” the email said. “Wear a face covering at all times, keep your distance, don’t gather in groups and wash your hands.”

In response to a question about whether Pitt plans to roll out additional restrictions given the continued high level of COVID-19 cases on campus, University spokesperson Kevin Zwick said Friday evening that Pitt will “monitor the conditions on campus and will implement additional measures as needed.”

Data collected by The Pitt News. Original data collection by Ryan Yang, Online Visual Editor. Archival data by Spotlight PA and the Philadelphia Inquirer. Graph by Jon Moss, Editor-in-Chief.

The shelter-in-place order will remain in effect until the CMRO announces that it has been lifted. During this period, the CMRO said students should only leave their rooms to “attend classes, labs or clinicals in person; pick up food; exercise safely; study in the library; work when necessary and shop for essentials and medical needs.”

The CMRO said in the email that Pitt students are required to call the Student Health Service at 412-383-1800 if they experience COVID-19 symptoms, believe they have had close contact with someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or test positive for COVID-19. This is in order to coordinate medical needs and perform contact tracing.

Pitt will offer expanded COVID-19 testing at Posvar Hall six days next week. The testing site is open Monday from 8 a.m. to noon, Tuesday and Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Thursday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Students who choose to get tested at Posvar must also request a self-swab testing kit through Quest, which they can do either online in advance or at the Posvar testing site with a QR code.

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 83% of ICU beds in the Pittsburgh area are currently occupied, compared with 78% statewide and 70% nationally. UPMC Shadyside is at 88% capacity and has 24 ICU beds remaining.

The University has had 1,308 students and 236 employees test positive since June 26, with 1,203 students and 224 employees recovered thus far.

The CMRO also said Pitt received a “very limited quantity” of Johnson & Johnson vaccines from the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the Federal Pharmacy Program and that Pitt has already administered them. As Pitt continues to receive vaccines, those who are eligible will receive an invitation. It also said people who received their first vaccine dose at the Petersen Events Center can receive their second dose on April 14, 15, 19, 20, 22, 23 or 26. Pitt has given more than 10,000 vaccines and hosted 13 clinics in coordination with the Allegheny County Health Department.

There are 105 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 about 300 isolation beds.

The University is planning for on-campus, in-person instruction for the majority of classes as well as “the full range” of on-campus living and activities for the fall semester. Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said these plans depend on continued availability of the vaccine across the country, and that Pitt is not anticipating a requirement that the incoming class have the COVID-19 vaccine.

Pitt implemented a systematic, random testing strategy, which involved testing several hundred students each week on Mondays and Wednesdays inside Posvar Hall. Pitt has since discontinued this surveillance testing and replaced it with walk-in, no-questions-asked testing at the same location.

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. Students needed a negative COVID-19 test before moving back on campus. Faculty and staff also have access to mail-in tests if they meet certain criteria.

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.

Bonner 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.