Only 2 positive COVID cases reported among 452 randomly selected students


Of the 452 asymptomatic students tested for COVID-19 as they arrived on campus last week, only two tested positive.

Since June 26, Pitt has been reporting how many people have tested positive for COVID-19 among those who have been on the Oakland campus in the previous 14 days.

Last week, as freshmen began arriving in the residence halls, Pitt instituted a plan to randomly test more than 400 students in each group of 1,500 returning to campus to determine the prevalence of cases. The students selected were sent an email and asked to report to the testing site between Posvar and Lawrence Halls at a specific time.

The first group moved in Aug. 11 and 12 and were tested Aug. 12 and 13. The overall prevalence for surveillance testing was 0.44 percent. Another group of students moved in over the weekend, but those results are not available yet.

As of Aug. 17, Pitt had reported 65 confirmed cases — 42 students and 23 faculty/staff. Of those, 11 students and four faculty or staff still had active cases.

“We now have thousands of Pitt students on and off campus, and yet the number of positive cases, symptomatic or asymptomatic, is very low. While this is encouraging, it is early. It is critical that we all maintain our preventive behaviors of wearing face coverings, staying physically distant and hand hygiene to keep the virus low,” said John Williams, director of the COVID-19 Medical Response Team and chief of the medical school’s Division of Infectious Diseases.

Pitt had been announcing updated numbers each Friday since June 26 but moved the reporting to today to include the numbers from last week’s tests.

Matthew Sterne, vice chancellor for Business Services, said at a news briefing on July 30 that Pitt has set aside about 179 beds to quarantine students who test positive, with the ability to add an additional 20 beds as needed. Students also can return to their permanent home. As of today. four students were in on-campus isolation units. Sterne didn’t specify which campus buildings will be used for this but said they wouldn’t be residence halls.

Williams said previously that if the prevalence is higher than expected, student arrival will be paused. The next batch of students is set to arrive Aug. 19 and 20. Arrivals will continue through Aug. 28.

Throughout the semester, the University will continue surveillance testing on the Pittsburgh, Greensburg, Bradford and Johnstown campuses: randomly testing a percentage of the student population — including undergraduate and graduate students who live on and off campus — who are not experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19. 

The test being given to students is through a nasal swab, not the long nasopharyngeal swab that has been talked about in the news. The difference is in the depth. The nasopharyngeal swab is inserted through the nose back to the throat. In contrast, the nasal swab being used by Pitt only goes into the nose half an inch. The nasal swab is approved by the CDC for SARS-CoV-2 testing, and is the technique most widely used by outpatient COVID-19 testing centers.

Students, faculty and staff are being asked to read and acknowledge a Community Compact that stresses that their actions not only affect their own health and wellbeing, but also that of all those around them. Everyone who returns to campus also will have to watch a health and safety training video about the pandemic and safe practices.

Masks and social distancing will be required in University buildings under all operational postures. Students who don’t follow these guidelines could face sanctions from the student disciplinary board.

In an email sent Monday, Pitt–Greensburg President Robert Gregerson said the Westmoreland County campus will move to the Guarded Risk posture on Aug. 24, allowing many classes to be taught in person. Faculty and students still have the option of participating remotely.

The number of cases reported by Pitt does not include University members who have tested positive but have not been in campus facilities in over 14 days or unconfirmed cases. For all campus cases, contact tracing is performed and notifications are made to University members who might have been exposed. Anyone deemed at risk of exposure will be required to self-quarantine for 14 days.

On Monday, UNC-Chapel Hill said it would move all classes online starting Aug. 19 after reporting 130 more students had tested positive for coronavirus last week, according to the Raleigh News & Observer. In-person classes started at the University of North Carolina last week.

UNC’s updated numbers follow weekend alerts about four clusters of five or more COVID-19 cases in dorms, apartments and a fraternity house. UNC has reported 324 positive cases since February, according to its online dashboard, including 279 students and 45 staff.

Chris O’Donnell, chief operating officer of Pitt's COVID-19 Medical Response Team and a professor of Medicine, said, “One of the most important things we can do is to avoid cluster outbreaks on campus, and these are most likely to occur in close contact group situations like unauthorized parties or going to bars and restaurants that are not following county regulations with respect occupancy limits. So the safest thing you can do as a student outside your pod is be outdoors, wear a mask and stay at least 6 feet away from others. Be creative about ways you connect and communicate with people in a safe way outdoors, and encourage your friends to do the same.” 

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


Have a story idea or news to share? Share it with the University Times.

Follow the University Times on Twitter and Facebook.