Pitt’s COVID numbers well below several comparable schools


The number of new COVID-19 cases on Pitt’s Oakland campus has been in the teens during each of the past three reporting periods on Sept. 18, 22 and 25. Today's COVID-19 Dashboard update said there were 14 new student cases since the report on Sept. 22. There were 18 new cases reported as of Sept. 18 and 12 more as of Sept. 22.

And as of Sept. 25, 51 students remained in isolation. The new positive tests, all from students who sought tests after experiencing symptoms, bring the total to 229 since Aug. 1, when many students began returning to the Oakland area.

In contrast, Penn State’s main campus reported 306 new cases among symptomatic students between Sept. 11 and 17. Pitt had 40 new cases in that same time period, while another neighboring school, West Virginia University, reported 86 new cases.

Pitt’s relatively low coronavirus numbers can be attributed to several factors, Provost Ann Cudd said this week. “I think that very slow, very gradual move in, was very effective. I believe that the gradual move to in-person classes has been effective, in part because it signals to everybody how serious this is and how cautious we all need to be with each other. … Student behavior has been pretty good; it’s not been perfect but pretty good. Masking behavior has been really great on campus. The students have done a solid job, as have the faculty and staff.”

Cudd also credited Dean of Student Kenyon Bonner’s work to communicate with students about the seriousness of the situation and their role in helping keep the numbers down. Bonner, Student Government Board President Eric Macadangdang and others have made several walking tours through South Oakland on weekend nights to remind students to avoid large gatherings and to keep their masks on. Cudd says she’s scheduled to accompany Bonner on one of these walks soon.

There were no new positive cases among Pitt employees or at the regional campuses in the latest report.

Of the more than 3,574 students who’ve participated in surveillance testing since Aug. 12, only 13 have tested positive. Martin said the surveillance testing would continue throughout the semester for students who live on and off campus. Surveillance testing is conducted Mondays and Wednesdays on asymptomatic students on the Oakland campus, and updated reports on the number of cases are released on Tuesdays and Fridays.

In a video message last week, Bonner thanked those who are wearing face coverings, physically distancing and following Pitt’s health and safety rules, but he said, “We need a full-court press against COVID-19 for the entire fall semester. We’re doing great, but it’s way too early to turn on the Victory Lights.”

He urged students who don’t feel well to contact Student Health Service at 412-383-1800 about getting a test and to “not hunker down” in their houses, apartments or residence halls.

Chancellor Patrick Gallagher told Senate Council on Sept. 17, “I think we also have to give the students credit in this case, and I want to thank the students for their responsiveness to the guidance.”

Gallagher said Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and county Health Department Director Debra Bogen both have commented to him about the high rates of compliance with wearing masks that they’ve seen during visits to campus.

“And it’s clearly making a difference,” the chancellor said. “Some of us get a little superstitious about being positive because, you know, things can change quickly. So don’t be complacent.”

“The University of Pittsburgh’s ability to keep our case counts low hinges on our students," said Joe Suyama, associate professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine and chief of emergency medicine services at Magee-Womens Hospital. “They are listening — and wearing face coverings, maintaining a safe physical distance, limiting new close contacts and self-reporting any symptoms. It’s encouraging to see, but we cannot let up.” 

Elise Martin, a member of the COVID-19 Medical Response Office and a faculty member in the School of Medicine, told Senate Council that 98 percent of the symptomatic students who have tested positive are undergraduates, and of those, 10 percent are freshmen. She reiterated that 80 percent of the cases are from students who live off campus. “With the weather cooling and more members of our University of Pittsburgh community spending time indoors, we can’t become complacent. We must double down on our mitigation efforts and all continue to do our part to stop the spread of this virus,” Martin said.

The medical response office warned those exiting isolation that having had the disease, “does not guarantee that you’re immune to the virus. It is possible to become reinfected and spread to others, even after you have had COVID-19. No one is exempt from wearing a face covering or from practicing physical distancing.”

Comparing total COVID-19 cases

Pitt’s number of positive COVID-19 cases has stayed relatively low since tracking began on Aug. 1. Here’s how Pitt compared to some neighboring schools and ACC rivals as of Sept. 22. The date each school started tracking cases varies.

Pitt: 229 students / 12 employees since Aug. 1

Clemson: 2,428 students / 96 employees since June 5

North Carolina State: 1,067 students / 44 employees since Aug. 8

Notre Dame: 710 students / 17 employees since Aug. 3

Ohio State: 2,803 students / 38 employees since Aug. 1

Penn State: 1,892 students since Aug. 7 / no numbers were reported for symptomatic employees

University of North Carolina: 658 students since July 1 / 70 employees since February

University of Virginia: 590 students / 54 employees since Aug. 17

Virginia Tech: 842 students / 8 employees since Aug. 3

West Virginia University: 583 students / 5 employees since July 20

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


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