By SUSAN JONES
On Sept. 8, Pitt reported 36 more students had tested positive for COVID-19 since its last update on Sept. 4, putting the Oakland campus at a “critical juncture,” the COVID-19 Medical Response Office said in a University-wide email.
The new cases, which are all from students who sought testing after experiencing symptoms of the virus, put the total at 128 since Aug. 1 when student began returning to the Oakland area. Of those, 78 remain in isolation, according to the COVID-19 Dashboard. The five-day moving average of positive tests per day went from 7.6 to 10.0 in the past four days, with new cases in double digits for four of the past seven days.
The Medical Response Office said that although the increase over the past four days “is not exponential, that does not mean we’re in the clear. On the contrary. This is a critical juncture. This is our moment to flatten the curve.”
Students who traveled anywhere for the Labor Day weekend need to shelter in place for 14 days upon returning to campus, the medical team said.
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 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.
A Sept. 6 video from Dean of Students Kenyon Bonner urged students to wear face masks, keep socially distanced particularly around people not in their pod, and to go to Student Health if they don’t feel well and get tested if necessary.
“The doctors and nurses that we have do not share your health information with the Office of Student Conduct,” Bonner said. “They do not share your information with me. We are more concerned with your health and well-being than we are about kicking any student out of Pitt.”
The Medical Response Office email also urged students to cooperate with University contact tracers. “By sharing the names of your close contacts with a contact tracer, you’re actually helping to protect your friends and loved ones who may also be at risk of falling ill from the virus,” the email said.
Bonner reiterated his advice that any students living off-campus who test positive should 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 in a previous email.
The COVID-19 Medical Response Office report said 80 percent of the cases are among students living off campus.
In a campus-wide 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.”
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.”
Pitt is now requiring that students, staff and faculty wear face masks 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.
Surveillance testing is being conducted each week on Mondays and Wednesdays and new reports on the number of cases will be released on Tuesdays and Fridays. The numbers released Sept. 8 do not include surveillance testing from Sept. 7.
There was two new cases reported among faculty and staff, bringing the total to 11 cases since Aug. 1. Four 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.
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 last week to 215, nearly all of them on the main University Park campus.
Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at email@example.com or 412-648-4294.
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