Aug. 31 COVID-19 update: Student cases on Pittsburgh campus jump by 46 in one week


Between Aug. 24 and 31, Pitt’s Oakland campus reported 46 more positive COVID-19 tests among students, for a total of 60 since Aug. 1 when students began returning to the area. Of those, 50 remain in isolation, according to figures released late Monday by the University.

Most of the positive cases were in students who were already experiencing symptoms. The random surveillance testing of 704 asymptomatic students in the last two groups to return to campus found four positive cases last week, for a total of six since move-in started on Aug. 11. The overall prevalence in the surveillance testing is 0.31 percent.

There were no new cases reported among faculty and staff. There have been eight cases since Aug. 1, and two remain in isolation.

Now that move-in is completed, Pitt will begin the next phase of surveillance testing on Sept. 2 on the Oakland campus, with 200 to 250 students being tested Mondays and Wednesdays. Pitt’s COVID-19 Dashboard, which has been updated on Mondays the past two weeks, will now be updated twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays.

The number of isolating students includes those in University-provided facilities and those who are at their permanent residence. Pitt has 179 isolation beds available, with the ability to add 20 more.

The five-day moving average of cases has risen from 1.4 on Aug. 24 to 8.6 on Aug. 30. The COVID-19 Medical Response Office report said 75 percent of the cases are among students living off campus.

In its campuswide email Monday, the Medical Response Office said: “These data likely reflect unsafe social gatherings without face coverings or physical distancing that occurred over the last one or two weeks. The higher proportion of positive cases among students living off campus suggests that these gatherings are occurring at off-campus locations. By immediately isolating these students, conducting contact tracing, and quarantining their close contacts, we are limiting further exposure. With thousands of students now on campus, the overall number of cases is not very high; however, the increase in absolute numbers reflects unsafe behaviors.”

The email also said that while most of those who tested positive reported only four to six contacts with other people, “a small minority of students testing positive have had more than 10 close contacts, which raises concern.” It exhorted the students to limit contacts to their “pod.”

On Aug. 19 — the day the Pitt semester started for everyone remotely — Provost Ann Cudd announced that in-person classes would not start until at least Sept. 14. Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said in an interview last week that it’s hard to make predictions more than a week out because of the constantly changing situation. He did say it’s reasonable to expect that within a week the Pitt community in Oakland will know whether circumstances are changing favorably or not favorably to allow in-person classes to start on Sept. 14.

Once in-person classes resume, the Flex@Pitt model allows both students and faculty to be either in the classroom or remote. One drawback for faculty who remain remote is that they can’t see the students who are in the classroom unless they all sign onto a Zoom meeting as well.

“I think the great unknown, that you see being … highlighted by some of the experiences at other campuses, is when something goes wrong … and these precautions aren’t followed, the virus is just not very forgiving, and things can change quickly,” Gallagher said last week.

Some universities that started the year with in-person classes have moved online temporarily or for the rest of the semester. On Aug. 31, Temple University announced it was taking a two-week pause for in-person classes after it found 103 active cases among 5,000 students tested during the first week of the semester.

Bloomsburg University has had 167 students test positive since Aug. 14. On Aug. 27, the university northeast of Harrisburg said it would shift almost all classes for its 8,700 students online.

Some larger universities have reported even higher numbers — Alabama, Illinois State, Iowa and Iowa State all had cases approaching or exceeding 1,000. In-person classes continue at all of these schools, and Iowa State has said it expects 25,000 people at its football season opener on Sept. 12.

N.C. State and UNC-Chapel Hill — both ACC schools that Pitt competes with — started the semester in person, but have since switched to online-only learning for undergraduates. UNC has reported more than 1,000 cases.

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


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