By DONOVAN HARRELL
The University is offering COVID-19 testing for students while they spend Thanksgiving at home.
Following the Nov. 12 Senate Council Meeting, John Williams, the head of Pitt’s COVID-19 Medical Response Office, said the goal for the tests is for students “to sort of confirm that they’ve been doing their shelter-in-place and their quarantine well.”
Williams said he was wary of testing everyone before they went home for the holidays.
“As we've seen from other schools, professional sports teams, and even the White House, daily testing can't protect you if you're not doing the right behaviors and mitigation behaviors,” Dr. Williams said.
Pitt students were asked to shelter-in place for at least 14 days total, with at least 10 days of those days on campus. During that period, they can take the test, Williams said.
Pitt has partnered with Quest Diagnostics to offer optional, unobserved self-collected PCR tests to all students at the end of this term. Pitt will cover the cost of one SARS-CoV-2 PCR test per student, if ordered between Nov. 16 and 30. Find more details and a link to order the tests on Pitt’s coronavirus website.
“It's important for people to remember, a negative test does not eliminate the need for quarantine,” Williams said. “It's important for people to remember that testing at home is not to shorten quarantine, it's to find the positive. ... If they are positive, then they need to stay in isolation.”
This comes after the University shifted its operational posture to Elevated risk following an increase in cases among students. The Nov. 20 report from the COVID-19 Medical Response Office showed 48 new positive cases among students on the Pittsburgh campus since Nov. 16, and eight new employee cases. There are 78 students in isolation.
Most in-person classes are ending today. Students have until Nov. 25 to leave residence halls. Most finals will be conducted online the week after Thanksgiving.
Some students who are currently in isolation may choose to stay at the University. Pitt will continue to support students in isolation or quarantine housing as needed. Compass Group is planning to provide a Thanksgiving meal delivery to these students, including smoked turkey, sides and a dessert. “Our heart goes out for students in isolation or quarantine. Our compassion is found in our food and with a handwritten card signed by the Pitt Eats team. We wish our students a swift recovery and hope this small gesture demonstrates how much our team cares about our students,” Quintin Eason, Compass Group, VP of Operations at Pitt, said in a statement.
The medical response office report said contract tracing is still underway for the new faculty and staff cases on the Pittsburgh campus. So far, no discernable connection has been found among these cases and no evidence that work-related transmission has occurred.
At a virtual Faculty Town Hall on Nov. 19, a participant asked Provost Ann Cudd how Pitt will adhere to new guidance from the commonwealth and Allegheny County that requires every student to be tested at the beginning of the spring semester.
Cudd said the University is still making plans for testing in the spring semester, but she expects the COVID-19 Medical Response Office to “find a way to adhere to that guidance.” No decisions have been made yet. In September, Pitt announced plans to start the spring semester a week later on Jan. 19, 2021. No plans have been announced yet on when and how students will return to campus.
Cudd and Senate Council President Chris Bonneau said the University does not currently have plans to make asymptomatic testing widely available for faculty and staff. However, Bonneau said this is something he’ll get further information on at a later time.
The University moved from Elevated Risk to the Guarded Risk operating posture on Oct. 19, which some faculty and student leaders criticized, fearing that it could lead to the Pitt community dropping their guard and engaging in more risky behavior.
Dean of Students Kenyon Bonner told the Oakwatch meeting hosted by the Oakland Planning and Development Corporation on Nov. 18 that more than 300 students had been cited for violating the student code of conduct this semester on the Pittsburgh campus, according to a report in The Pitt News. Bonner said the University’s Office of Compliance, Investigation and Ethics has received 876 comments from its anonymous reporting tool — COVID Concern Connection — but Pitt can’t act on situations it doesn’t receive enough information about, such as complaints without addresses or complaints of parties after they’re over.
After Pitt moved to Guarded, Williams and other University leaders expected a possible increase in cases, in part due to increased gatherings during Halloween. He said the decision to move to Guarded Risk was not a mistake based on the data the COVID-19 response team had at the time.
“If we had not had a bump in cases, nobody, no one would be questioning whether or not we should have gone to Guarded,” Williams said. “It's always easy to second guess. If I went to Guarded right now, with the recent bumping cases, I would ask you to question my sanity.”
Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at email@example.com or 412-383-9905.
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