Students in Pitt isolation housing describe maintenance, communication issues


Clare Sheedy | Assistant Visual Editor

Zach Conley, a junior marketing major who lived in isolation housing for two days, stands on Atwood Street in South Oakland.

By Alexandra Ross, Staff Writer

Some Pitt students staying in COVID-19 isolation housing during January had some unexpected — and unwelcome — roommates.

According to A., a student who stayed in isolation housing for five days, they and their isolation housing roommate saw multiple roaches in the apartment during their stay. A. asked to remain anonymous because of the nature of their complaints against the University.

“I don’t know where [my roommate] was [in the apartment], but she just said that she saw a bug or something, and then I was like, ‘Yeah, I literally saw two in [my bedroom],’” A. said. “I don’t know if [the one their roommate saw] was in the kitchen or something, or in her room, but I also saw one in the bathroom.”

Pitt students living in on-campus housing who test positive for COVID-19 and cannot safely isolate themselves in their dorm — often because they share a bedroom or bathroom with other students — are required to move into Pitt isolation housing or their permanent residence while they isolate. Off-campus students can isolate at their home or elect to move into Pitt isolation housing.

Students are required to isolate for only up to five days in the housing due to changes in Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance. This is a change from last semester when Pitt required students to stay in isolation for up to 10 days, depending on the date they tested positive or started experiencing symptoms.

While Pitt declined to specify the maximum or current capacity of isolation housing units on the Pittsburgh campus in January, University spokesperson David Seldin said 79% of the University’s isolation beds were available as of Feb. 4, a day after the COVID-19 Medical Response Office reported 241 new student COVID-19 cases over the previous week. A similar number of units were available throughout the entirety of the month.

When A. got to their isolation unit, they said it was very cold, and the apartment’s radiators didn’t provide adequate heat on their own. They said they had to bring an extra space heater, provided by the University in the kitchen, into their room.

“I got there and it was really cold in my room,” A. said. “They had heaters and stuff … one of them worked, like the one that I brought into my room from the kitchen, but the ones in the apartments that you could turn on, it didn’t really do anything.”

A. said the isolation apartment had several maintenance issues, including a light cover that fell out of the ceiling while they were in their bedroom, and a broken door knob that fell off a door.

“It was just so weird because everything was just breaking, like the light was falling and then the bathroom door knob came off right when I just opened it,” A. said.

Seldin said Pitt is committed to “safety, cleanliness and comfort” in isolation housing, and said students who have issues should contact the COVID-19 Support Team or Panther Central.

“The University is committed to providing students with isolation housing and support that ensure safety, cleanliness and comfort to help them through a difficult time,” Seldin said. “COVID-19 Support Team staff check in regularly with students in isolation housing, doing everything possible to identify and resolve any questions or concerns. Students who would like to discuss experience issues or have a maintenance request for isolation housing services are encouraged to contact Panther Central for assistance.”

The University did not address student complaints relating to roaches, heating issues or a “stressful” transition to and from isolation housing.

Not all students believed their isolation units were in poor condition. Devon Tuttle, a sophomore political science and French double major, said she thought Pitt provided a good amount of food and water to students, and according to her, the conditions of her isolation housing unit were clean.

“They’ve provided a ton of water, and there’s an ample amount of food for students,” Tuttle said. “The place is clean. I’m not sure if anyone came in before to clean it and if there was someone else in this room before, but if so then it looks like it’s a clean place.”

Students said they had varying experiences with communicating with the University prior to moving out of their dorms. Zach Conley, a junior marketing major who lived in isolation housing for two days, said he was told to bring his own toiletries and clothing for his stay. But Tuttle, who moved into isolation housing a day later than Conley, said she was not told what to bring with her when she moved.

“I brought a blanket for my room because I didn’t know what I was gonna get,” Tuttle said. “They didn’t tell me what I needed to bring. They couldn’t give me an estimate of when I would be able to go return to my room.”

Tuttle said moving out of the dorms and into isolation housing was stressful. She was asked to move out of her dorm at 8 p.m. on Thursday after submitting a positive test to Student Health Service that morning, she said.

Tuttle said a lack of moving assistance from the University added to the anxiety of moving out at night while there was snow on the ground.

“It was difficult to carry all my stuff by myself and it just kind of heightened the anxiety around the situation of walking through the snow and walking at night and being in a place where I personally don’t really know that much of,” Tuttle said.

A. said the University provided them with a driver when they moved from the Litchfield Towers to the isolation apartment, as well as when they moved back to their regular residence. They said the University offered them moving assistance without needing to ask for it.

“It was eight or nine when I was leaving, and so I was kind of nervous to leave by myself,” A. said. “They just asked if I needed help, so I said yes, because it was also snowing. I was just gonna Uber there, but they offered.”

Conley said the University did a good job of ensuring that things moved quickly between testing positive and moving into isolation housing.

“I got tested, my test came back and I moved on the same day,” Conley said. “So it was a lot to handle, but it made me feel good about Pitt, knowing that if someone did test positive, they were going to do everything that they could to get them moved out and not risk causing more cases.”

According to Tuttle and Conley, once students move into isolation housing, they are connected to the COVID-19 Support Team, which is available for students who have non-medical questions or concerns while in isolation. Tuttle said her experiences with the COVID-19 Support Team were largely positive.

“I have had good experiences with calling them and talking to them,” Tuttle said. “They are usually just very cooperative and very helpful whenever you have questions to ask, and everyone that I’ve talked to has been very nice as well.”

Conley said he had a roommate while he was in isolation housing, which he said he wasn’t notified about ahead of time. The anonymous student also said they were given a roommate with no warning, despite COVID-19 Support Team telling them they would notify the student beforehand. Conley, who called the COVID-19 Support Team to make sure there wasn’t a mistake, said a COVID-19 Support Team member told him over the phone that this was due to a large influx in cases.

“They were supposed to tell me, but on Thursday [Jan. 20], they said they were really packed and backed up on cases and putting people in places,” Conley said. “She also said that they were understaffed by a couple people, and it just slipped through and they didn’t end up telling me.”

Conley said it didn’t bother him too much to share his isolation housing unit, but he felt uncomfortable with some of Pitt’s rules about isolation roommates — especially a lack of masking.

“It wasn’t that big of a deal having a roommate,” Conley said. “The only thing is, they said it wouldn’t impact my move out date, but I also didn’t feel 100% comfortable ‘cause they said like, ‘You don’t have to wear masks in the apartment or anything like that.’”

Conley decided to move out of University isolation housing after two days and isolate at his permanent residence. He said he wanted to be in a more comfortable environment for the rest of his isolation period.

“My mom and my dad both said, like, ‘You can come home, you can be in the comfort of our own house,’ so that was my decision,” Conley said.

Tuttle said she was surprised by how difficult the move to isolation housing was, given how long the University has been dealing with the pandemic.

“They’ve been doing this for about two years now,” Tuttle said. “It was just very surprising how still kind of confusing it was and still just very stressful.”