COVID updates: Pitt joins Operation Warp Speed and adds Medical Response Team


Even if you’ve been paying close attention to the news coming out of Pitt related to the pandemic and the return to campus this fall, it’s easy to have missed something.

Here’s a look at some of the highlights from the past two weeks:

Operation Warp Speed

One of the most significant developments was the announcement that Pitt and UPMC will participate in clinical research trials for vaccines against the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

The trials are part of the COVID-19 Prevention Network and Operation Warp Speed, the national initiative to accelerate development of a safe and effective vaccine to protect recipients from SARS-CoV-2. Recruitment for the Pittsburgh site for the trials begins immediately, first for the vaccine being developed by Moderna Inc., followed quickly by other candidate vaccines.

“Participating in Operation Warp Speed is a huge honor. This is a chance for Pittsburgh to have an impact that’s not just local or national — it’s going to be worldwide,” said Judy Martin, director of the Pittsburgh Vaccine Clinical Trials Unit at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and professor of pediatrics at Pitt.

The Pittsburgh trials are recruiting 750 participants over age 18 who are not severely immunocompromised. Ideal participants are those who have a higher likelihood of being naturally exposed to SARS-CoV-2 due to their public activities or occupation, such as those living in more densely packed housing, restaurant and grocery store workers, public transit drivers, health care workers or daycare and school teachers.

To learn more and sign-up for the trials, visit the COVID-19 Prevention Network website, email or call 412-692-7382.

Chief medical officer and COVID-19 Response Office

John V. WilliamsA new COVID-19 Medical Response Office at Pitt will oversee the implementation of a virus monitoring program on all five Pitt campuses. The office will direct the University’s COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, reporting procedures and isolation and quarantine protocols.

John V. Williams, chief of the medical school’s Division of Infectious Diseases and professor of pediatrics, will direct the new office. Williams also is on the Chancellors Healthcare Advisory Group, which the Medical Response Office will report to.

The Response Office also includes medical school faculty members Christopher P. O'Donnell as chief operating officer, Elise Martin and Joe Suyama.

“What we are doing, along with our teams, is taking the great work done by the Healthcare Advisory Group and others and translating it into practice across the University,” Williams told Pittwire.

Regionals postpone fall sports

Robert Gregerson, president of Pitt–Greensburg, announced July 23 that the campus will postpone its fall varsity sports competitions. The Greensburg campus remains at the Elevated Risk level, while Pitt’s other regional campuses have moved to Guarded.

“My primary concern is for the safety of all members of our community,” Gregerson said. “It was a difficult decision. We simply do not have the resources necessary to create and maintain an environment for intercollegiate Division III athletic competition that meets our safety requirements.”

This decision will affect men’s soccer, women’s soccer, women’s volleyball, men’s golf, women’s tennis, men’s cross country, and women’s cross country whose seasons usually span August through October.

Pitt­–Johnstown is part of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference, which voted on July 14 to postpone all conference athletic events and championships through the fall semester, which means even winter sports that start before Jan. 1 are affected. At Pitt–Johnstown, cross country, golf, men’s and women’s soccer and women’s volleyball compete in the fall. Winter sports include basketball, wrestling, and indoor track.

Pitt–Bradford also will not be participating in fall intercollegiate sports this year. This includes men’s and women’s soccer, women’s volleyball, women’s tennis and golf.

Universities support governor’s actions

Leaders of the University of Pittsburgh, Penn State University and Temple University have voiced their support for mask-wearing and mitigation efforts put in place by the administration of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf to stop the recent rise in cases of COVID-19 and keep Pennsylvanians safe.

“Evidence-based strategies are vital to reducing the spread of COVID-19, and it is critical that we use them to promote the health and safety of residents throughout the Commonwealth,” Pitt Chancellor Patrick D. Gallagher said. “The University of Pittsburgh deeply appreciates Governor Wolf’s unwavering commitment to protect the health of all Pennsylvanians.”

Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine put in place additional mitigation efforts on July 15 when multiple data points indicated the state may be headed for another surge in COVID-19 cases. These health experts and the CDC have noted that limiting indoor activities and wearing masks can have a strong positive effect on curtailing another surge.

Pitt-branded face masks

Face coverings are required in all of Pitt buildings at all operational levels and even outside on campus at the High-Risk level. The University will be providing a Pitt-branded cloth face covering to all faculty, staff and students who are returning to campus this fall to help keep the community healthy and show Panther Pride.

— Compiled from reports on Pittwire and UPMC