By SUSAN JONES
In the first biweekly update of its COVID-19 Dashboard, Pitt reported 32 new positive COVID-19 tests among students between Aug. 31 and Sept. 4.
FACE COVERINGS REQUIRED INSIDE AND OUTSIDE ON CAMPUS
On Sept. 4, Pitt revised its standards and guidelines for face coverings, which are now required for students, staff and faculty anytime they are in public in Pitt buildings and or outdoors on campus, with very few exceptions.
“The single most effective thing we can all do to protect our community is wear our face coverings properly and consistently,” said John Williams. director of the COVID-19 Medical Response Office.
The only exceptions in the Elevated and Guarded Risk Postures are if you’re: eating or drinking in a designated dining area and 6 feet apart, or with your household or pod members; in a private, single occupancy space (like a private office); or in your living space with members of your household or pod.
These numbers reflect the 200 to 250 asymptomatic students who were tested on Sept. 2, as part of Pitt’s ongoing surveillance testing, and any students who sought testing after experiencing symptoms of the virus. The surveillance testing is now being conducted each week on Mondays and Wednesdays and new reports on the number of cases will be released on Tuesdays and Fridays, according to the COVID-19 Medical Response Office.
Between Aug. 24 and 31, Pitt’s Oakland campus reported 46 more positive COVID-19 tests among students, for a total of 92 since Aug. 1 when students began returning to the area. Of those, 61 remain in isolation, according to figures released Sept. 4 by the University.
Most of the positive cases were in students who were already experiencing symptoms. The random surveillance testing of 281 asymptomatic students on Sept. 2 found two positive cases, for a total of eight since Aug. 12. The overall prevalence in the surveillance testing is 0.36 percent.
There was one new case reported among faculty and staff. There have been nine cases since Aug. 1, and two remain in isolation.
The number of isolating students includes those in University-provided facilities and those who are at their permanent residence. Pitt has 179 isolation beds available, with the ability to add 20 more.
In an email on Sept. 5, Dean of Students Kenyon Bonner urged any students living off-campus who test positive to move to the University’s isolation housing, to avoid spreading the disease to their housemates.
Students in isolation housing receive meal delivery, daily medical check-ins, and a large care package of snacks, Pitt gear, and necessities, Bonner said. “They will also be isolated with other students who have tested positive, so there is the opportunity for social and emotional support from their peers and our staff.”
Colleges nationwide face tough decisions
On Sept. 1, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on NBC’s “Today” show that colleges experiencing spikes in coronavirus cases shouldn’t send students home.
“It’s the worst thing you could do,” Fauci said. “When you send them home, particularly when you’re dealing with a university where people come from multiple different locations, you could be seeding the different places with infection.”
Many schools, such as UNC–Chapel Hill and Notre Dame have suspended or delayed in-person classes, with UNC asking students to cancel their housing contracts.
Other institutions, like the University of Alabama and the University of Iowa, have allowed students to remain on campus and continued to offer some in-person instruction despite more than 1,000 cases at each school.
On Sept. 7, West Virginia University announced all undergraduate courses in Morgantown — with the exception of those Health Sciences courses with students already engaged in clinical rotation — will move online starting Sept. 9 through at least Sept. 25. Graduate and professional courses will continue to be offered in-person. WVU said the move was made because of an increase in cases among student and the probability of more cases following several reports of parties held this holiday weekend.
At Temple University in Philadelphia, cases rose from 50 on Aug. 28 to more than 200 on Sept. 2. After pausing in-person classes for two weeks on Aug. 31, Temple officials on Sept. 3 said 95 percent of classes will now be conducted remotely for the rest of the semester.
The Post-Gazette reported on Sept. 4 that Penn State plans to weigh a temporary or sustained switch to remote learning this fall after a near tripling of COVID-19 cases this week to 215, nearly all of them on the main University Park campus.
Average cases moving up
At Pitt, the five-day moving average of cases has risen from 1.4 on Aug. 24 to 7.6 on Sept. 4. The COVID-19 Medical Response Office report said 75 percent of the cases are among students living off campus.
In its campuswide email on Aug. 31, the Medical Response Office said: “These data likely reflect unsafe social gatherings without face coverings or physical distancing that occurred over the last one or two weeks. The higher proportion of positive cases among students living off campus suggests that these gatherings are occurring at off-campus locations. By immediately isolating these students, conducting contact tracing, and quarantining their close contacts, we are limiting further exposure. With thousands of students now on campus, the overall number of cases is not very high; however, the increase in absolute numbers reflects unsafe behaviors.”
The email also said that while most of those who tested positive reported only four to six contacts with other people, “a small minority of students testing positive have had more than 10 close contacts, which raises concern.” It exhorted the students to limit contacts to their “pod.”
On Aug. 19 — the day the Pitt semester started for everyone remotely — Provost Ann Cudd announced that in-person classes would not start until at least Sept. 14. Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said in an interview Aug. 26 that it’s hard to make predictions more than a week out because of the constantly changing situation. He and others have previously said that the Pitt community would be given at least a week’s notice before the operational posture moves to Guarded on the Oakland campus, which would allow in-person classes. The regional campuses all moved to the Guarded status in August.
Once in-person classes resume, the Flex@Pitt model allows both students and faculty to be either in the classroom or remote. One drawback for faculty who remain remote is that they can’t see the students who are in the classroom unless they all sign onto a Zoom meeting as well.
“I think the great unknown, that you see being … highlighted by some of the experiences at other campuses, is when something goes wrong … and these precautions aren’t followed, the virus is just not very forgiving, and things can change quickly,” Gallagher said last week.
Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at email@example.com or 412-648-4294.
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