Aug. 24 COVID-19 update: Random tests of incoming students find no new COVID-19 cases

Pitt's COVID-19 dashboard


No new cases of COVID-19 were reported in the second and third rounds of random testing of students moving back to Pitt’s Oakland campus.

Since Aug. 12, only two of 1,225 randomly selected students have tested positive, and those two were reported in Pitt’s weekly update on Aug. 17. These numbers do not include students who were tested after experiencing coronavirus-like symptoms.

Since Aug. 1 — the date when many off-campus leases start — 14 students in total have tested positive and 11 are currently in isolation.

John Williams, director of Pitt’s COVID-19 Medical Response Teams, said at a news conference on Aug. 24 that the results are encouraging, but students still need to practice the triumvirate of coronavirus health safety — hand washing, social distancing and face coverings.

The second and third rounds of tests were given Aug. 16, 17, 20 and 21. Williams said the students selected were living both on- and off-campus and were from four epidemiologically meaningful groups — those from the Allegheny County region, from the rest of Pennsylvania, from the rest of the United States and international students.

The last two groups of students were moving in Aug. 23, 24, 27 and 28. Williams said they are currently working out plans on how to continue the surveillance testing after all students are on campus.

“It’s a really important way to get a pulse on what’s out there in the community, hopefully before you see a rise in cases,” he said. “Behavior is much more important than testing, but testing is really important and it’s a key part of our strategy.”

Williams said they are paying particular attention to trends, such as is a number of cases are coming from a specific residence hall.

When asked how much the tests were costing the University, Williams said he’d didn’t have the exact amount, but “it’s not cheap.” The cost, he said, was not a factor in the testing approach Pitt decided to use. “The chancellor said, ‘Do what you need to do to do the testing.’ … We think this is the best plan for Pitt, to keep our community and our students and our faculty and staff safe.”

The University has set up a dashboard on the website to give real-time data on student, faculty and staff cases. Since Aug. 1, there have been eight positive cases among faculty and staff who have been on the Oakland campus in the past 14 days and were experiencing symptoms. Of those, five remain in isolation.

Students on the Johnstown, Greensburg and Bradford campuses also were randomly tested Aug. 18 and 19. Of 279 students tested, only one came back positive.

Modifying behaviors

Dean of Students Kenyon Bonner, who warned students last week that there would be consequences for those who didn’t follow Pitt’s healthy and safety rules, said at the news conference that there were concerns going into this past weekend.

After seeing what has happened at some other universities that have seen sharp spikes in on-campus cases and have been forced to move to all remote classes for the semester, Bonner said his warning last week “was an attempt to be proactive (before the first weekend of the semester) and make sure that everyone understands exactly what those consequences are and what their responsibility is.”

He said over the weekend, “our students were doing a really good job, but we can do better. We did have complaints from the community. I appreciate folks continuing to report their concerns and bring to our attention parties or large gatherings … and hope that continues.”

He said they are not using Pitt Police to enforce the health rules, but instead are relying on other students, community members and residence life staff to report any inappropriate behavior.

The Pitt COVID Concern Connection allows for anonymous reporting of any COVID-related concern. Those who choose to provide an email address will receive a follow up.

The number of students who have been placed on interim sanctions because of alleged health and safety violations isn’t overwhelming, Bonner said, but it’s “more than a handful.” These students “will have a conduct hearing to determine whether or not they continue with us this semester.” They face everything from being banned from campus buildings to housing suspensions or full suspensions.

On Monday, four more Greek life organizations — two fraternities and two sororities — were placed on “interim suspension of registration” for allegedly violating Pitt’s health guidelines. They join the three fraternities and two sororities that were placed on interim suspension last week. (See more in The Pitt News.)

“Hopefully, our students will continue to express and behave in positive ways that are protecting the community, but those who don’t, we will continue to address them through our conduct system,” Bonner said.

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at or 412-648-4294.


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