COVID cases continue to spike; Pitt changing testing strategy


Two days after Pitt’s Oakland campus moved to an Elevated Risk posture on March 31, positive COVID-19 cases among students hit an all-time high for a single day — 28 — then this week it hit that high again. The moving average of new cases per day remains elevated, at similar levels to where it was in November before students went home.

“We are sounding the alarm. Current spread is endangering our campus and surrounding communities,” the COVID-19 Medical Response Office said in its April 6 report.

Since the Oakland campus moved to Guarded Risk on March 11, 224 students and 19 employees have tested positive for COVID-19. The medical response office confirmed in its March 23 report that the U.K. variant, B.1.1.7, is present on the Pittsburgh campus. That report cited two consecutive weekends where students gathered in large numbers to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day as one of the causes of the spike in cases.

In the fall, the Oakland campus moved to Guarded Risk on Oct. 19, but was forced back to Elevated Risk on Nov. 8 and started the end-of-semester shelter in place earlier than expected after a spike in cases following Halloween weekend.

The numbers over the past two weeks on the Oakland campus:

  • April 1: 51 new student cases reported

  • April 5: 47 new student cases.

  • April 8: 44 new student cases 

  • March 29: 29 new student cases

As of April 9, 105 students were isolation. The five-day moving average is 11.8.  The average has been as low as 1.6 as of March 1 and as high as 13 on April 1.

The CMRO reported on March 23 that COVID-19 is now widespread across 13 residence halls in Oakland, and the majority of new cases are on campus. The regional campuses have maintained cases in the single digits.

On April 6, the CMRO report said: “Most of the cases we’re seeing are in small pockets throughout multiple residence halls. Contact tracing has not revealed clear connections between these clusters, though we suspect off-campus spread. Students living off-campus may be avoiding testing or not reporting positive test results from outside vendors. This makes it very difficult to control the spread.”

Response rates to invitations for surveillance testing have plummeted, the CMRO said, citing pandemic fatigue as one reason. Because of this, Pitt is changing its testing strategy.

Beginning next week, there will no longer be randomized surveillance testing on the Pittsburgh campus. Instead, the Posvar site will be used to make testing available to any asymptomatic student, no questions asked. If you feel you may have been exposed, have not been following mitigation measures or shelter-in-place protocols or simply want to know if you have COVID-19, schedule a time to come for testing via PittSwab Scheduler

In addition, the CMRO will be offering increased focused testing in response to current trends. If you are invited — or if you have not been following Pitt’s health and safety rules — testing is strongly encouraged.

Because the U.K. variant is more transmissible, the CMRO said on March 23, “We are deeply worried about the possibility that this trend will continue or worsen in the remaining five weeks of spring term. We must take action now to reverse this trend.”

The shelter in place started at 9 p.m. March 31. Students should only leave their rooms or apartments to attend classes, labs or clinicals in person; pick up food; exercise safely; work when necessary; and shop for essentials and medical needs. Group work for classes and student activities should be held virtually. Campus dining will be available via takeout only beginning with breakfast on April 1. Residence hall lounges, recreation rooms and kitchens will begin closing tonight.

The medical response office said the shelter in place order would “remain in effect until the CMRO advises that it is safe to lift.” But the University already announced that students would be asked to shelter in place starting April 16, to prepare for them traveling home at the end of the semester.

Dean of Students Kenyon Bonner warned at last month’s Senate Council meeting that non-adherence to healthy safety rules could cause a spike in cases that could imperil in-person graduations, which are slated to start on April 30. No final decision has been made about commencement, although in-person ceremonies are being planned.

The medical response office also reminded everyone in the Pitt community that if they choose to travel during the pandemic, they are expected to quarantine for a full seven days upon their return and get a COVID test at day 3 to 5 — or to quarantine for 10 days without a test — regardless of immunization status.

As always, face coverings are required inside and out, along with physical distancing. Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently. Pitt's health rules remain the same through every risk posture.

With only a few weeks left in the spring term, the CMRO said it seems highly unlikely that Pitt will be in a position to vaccinate the majority of students before the end of term. Students are encouraged to seek out vaccines wherever they spend the summer, particularly since some states have more availability than Pennsylvania.

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at or 724-244-4042.


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