A year in the life of Pitt during the COVID-19 pandemic


At the beginning of March 2020, few of us could have imagined the year that was about to come. But just a few days later, our working and studying lives at Pitt would be changed dramatically.

Over the course of the past 12 months, there’s rarely been a break from the pandemic-related news, both on and off campus. Here’s a look at how Pitt has weathered the pandemic, gathered mostly from the University Times coverage during the past year and from other news sources. (Bold type: national and international developments / Italic type: state developments / Plain type: Pitt-related)


Jan. 9, 2020: The World Health Organization announces mysterious coronavirus-related pneumonia in Wuhan, China

Jan. 21: CDC confirms first U.S. coronavirus case

Late January 2020: Pitt officials begin planning for what might happen if and when the COVID-19 virus reaches Pittsburgh.

Feb. 3: U.S. declares public health emergency

Masked and gowned researchers in Center for Vaccine Research

Feb. 12: Paul Duprex announces that Pitt’s Center for Vaccine Research will be one of the few university-related facilities in the U.S. that will get a sample of the COVID-19 virus from the CDC for research and possible vaccine development.

March 3: Pitt recalls 68 students studying abroad and asks them to return to their homes.

March 4: Pitt announces it has canceled all University-sponsored spring break trips to foreign countries or that require domestic air travel, affecting 162 students. 

March 11: WHO declares COVID-19 a pandemic

— Chancellor Patrick Gallagher announces Pitt will move to remote learning as of March 23 and continue through the end of the semester. Students are on spring break and are asked not to return to campus on March 16. Classes are suspended for the week of March 16 to allow faculty to prepare for online teaching. Staff are told to “work remotely as long as functionality is not compromised,” says HR’s David DeJong. Staff also are given 10 additional paid sick leave days.

Students move out after the Oakland campus is shut down in March

March 12: The ACC, of which Pitt is a member, says it is suspending "all athletic-related activities including all competition, formal and organized practice, recruiting and participation in NCAA championships until further notice.”

— Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf implements social distancing measures in Allegheny, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery counties, and urges nonessential businesses to close.

March 13: President Donald Trump declares COVID-19 a national emergency

— Wolf announces that all Pennsylvania schools will be closed for at least two weeks. 

March 17: Pitt postpones all commencement ceremonies.

March 18: The Pa. Department of Health reports the state's first death related to the virus in Northampton County.

March 19: Gov. Wolf orders a statewide closure of all “non-life sustaining businesses operations and services,” going into effect at 12:01 a.m. March 21.

March 20: Most University buildings are closed to everyone. The only staff left on campus are those who are supporting the roughly 500 students who have opted to stay, and those in the research community who are deemed essential.

— Provost Ann Cudd announces that all undergraduate and graduate students can convert any of their courses during the spring term from a letter grade to a satisfactory or no credit, and that the spring term has been shortened to 14 weeks.

March 22: Pitt reports its first confirmed case of COVID-19 — a student living in Holland Hall. All students who remain on campus — around 500 — have been moved to private rooms with individual bathrooms.

March 23: Gov. Wolf issues additional stay-at-home orders for Allegheny, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, Monroe and Philadelphia County, for 8 p.m. March 23 at least April 6.

March 24: All construction projects on Pitt campuses are halted, including the Bigelow Boulevard project.

March 26: The U.S. Senate passes the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act and President Trump signs it the next day. Pitt will receive $21.3 million, with at least half required to go to emergency financial-aid grants to students. 

March 27: Provost Cudd says that all summer classes will be conducted online.

April: The cap on accruing more vacation time for staff is lifted through Nov. 30, which is later extended to Feb. 28, 2021, and currently until June 30, 2021.

April 1: Gov. Wolf makes the stay-at-home order statewide.

April 3: Wolf asks Pennsylvanians to wear cloth face coverings in public.

Statue of Thomas Starzl with face mask

April 7: Construction resumes at 5051 Centre Ave. in Bloomfield, a project being developed by Pitt and Wexford Science + Technology as a research facility. All other Pitt projects remain stalled.

April 9: Gov. Wolf officially orders all Pennsylvania schools to close through the end of the academic school year.

April 10: Students applying to start at Pitt’s regional campuses in Bradford, Greensburg, Johnstown and Titusville in fall 2020 are given the option of not providing ACT and SAT scores.

April 17: Gallagher estimates the University’s net losses so far at around $40 million — nearly half coming from pro-rated refunds of fees for room and board after students were asked not to return from spring break. 

— All hiring of full- and part-time staff is suspended until further notice.

April 24: Gallagher says he will donate 20 percent of his 2020 salary to support students and the Pitt community, and the University’s eight senior vice chancellors will donate 10 percent of theirs.

April 26: All 8,000 of Pitt’s graduating students — undergrad, graduate, doctoral and professional — are honored at an online celebration. Regional campuses hold similar online commencement events on April 25 and 26.

Pitt's deans congratulate graduates in virtual celebration

April 29: Pitt announces $10.6 million from the CARES Act will go to about 11,400 students across all five campuses. Student will receive between $500 and $1,000.

May 1: Staff members are told they can choose to cut their work hours and effort from 100 percent to 50 percent in 10 percent increments, or can temporarily quit working entirely to take care of family or other personal or family needs. 

— Public and private construction projects are allowed to resume in Pennsylvania, including those at Pitt.

May 6: Four of Pitt’s leaders in athletics — football Coach Pat Narduzzi, men's basketball Coach Jeff Capel, women's basketball Coach Lance White and Director of Athletics Heather Lyke — and their families pledge a combined $500,000 to Pitt’s Center for Vaccine Research to help in the search for a COVID-19 vaccine. 

May 7: Gov. Wolf extends the stay-at-home order until June 4 for counties in the red phase, including Allegheny

May 8: 24 counties, including Bradford and Crawford, home of Pitt–Titusville, enter the yellow phase, allowing some businesses to reopen at limited capacity.

May 14: Gallagher tells Senate Council he hopes to reveal general elements of Pitt’s restart plans in June, and then issue specific guidance in July.

May 15: 13 more counties enter the yellow phase, including Allegheny, Cambria (Pitt–Johnstown) and Westmoreland (Pitt–Greensburg).

May 28: U.S. COVID-19 deaths pass the 100,000 mark

May 29: The first 18 counties enter the green phase, including Bradford and Crawford, allowing some businesses to increase to 75 percent occupancy and restaurants to 50 percent.

— Gov. Wolf signs part of the 2020-21 budget that keeps funding to Pitt and the other state-related schools the same as the previous year. The funding is for the full 12 months, unlike other budget items that were only approved through Nov. 30, 2020.

June: Several research projects that were shut down by the pandemic begin ramping up again with strict protocols in place.

June 5: 16 more counties enter the green phase, including Allegheny, Cambria and Westmoreland.

Professor teaching to students in classroom and on screen

June 8: Provost Cudd announces that Pitt is planning to start the fall semester online a few days earlier than originally planned — Aug. 19 instead of Aug. 24 — and end classes on Nov. 20, the Friday before Thanksgiving. The announcement also says in-person classes will start Aug. 24 “where appropriate.” The new schedule includes classes and work for staff on Labor Day.

— Chancellor Gallagher says on-campus housing “will be operational regardless of the pandemic’s intensity,” although with modifications, and classes will rely on a hybrid approach to teaching and learning, Flex@Pitt, which will use technology-enhanced classrooms that can serve both in-person attendees and remote attendees at once. 

— Gallagher also announces the formation of the Chancellor’s Healthcare Advisory Group, chaired by new Senior Vice Chancellor for Health Sciences Anantha Shekhar, to help guide University decision makers in their response to the COVID-19 virus. 

June 10: U.S. COVID-19 cases reach 2 million.

June 15: Pitt announces details of a voluntary retirement incentive program for faculty 65 and older who have worked at the University consecutively for 10 or more years. The 230 faculty members who qualify must indicate their interest by July 1, 2020, and have a retirement date between May 21, 2020 and Aug. 31.

June 25: Board of Trustees Property and Facilities Committee approves a plan to pay an estimated $22 million to rent space in three Oakland hotels this fall in an effort to de-densify student housing.

June 26: Pitt starts posting how many students, staff and faculty who have been on the Oakland campus in the past 14 days have tested positive for COVID-19. Currently that number stands at five students and one employee.

June 30: Pitt announces its Resilience Framework with three risk-based operational postures — High, Elevated and Guarded Risk — with different rules for each on in-person instruction, housing, gatherings and more.

John Williams with Pitt mask talking to student

July: A new COVID-19 Medical Response Office at Pitt will oversee the implementation of a virus monitoring program on all five Pitt campuses. The office will direct the University’s COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, reporting procedures and isolation and quarantine protocols. John V. Williams, chief of the medical school’s Division of Infectious Diseases and professor of pediatrics, will direct the new office.

July 1: Gov. Wolf issues a statewide order mandating the wearing of face masks in all public spaces in the state.

July 2: Several states, including California and Indiana, postpone or reverse plans to reopen their economies, as the United States records 50,000 new cases of COVID-19 — the largest one-day spike since the pandemic’s onset.

July 7: US surpasses 3 million infections.

July 10: Students moving into on-campus housing are told Pitt will pay for five pre-paid shipping labels to Ship2Pitt. Packages must be shipped by July 31 and will be delivered directly to students’ dorm rooms.

Staff sort through boxes sent to Pitt by students

July 13: Pitt’s Oakland and Greensburg campuses will move from the emergency status it adopted in March to the Elevated Risk operational posture. The other branch campuses in Johnstown, Bradford and Titusville plan to move to the Guarded Risk level. Each school, unit and department is asked to prepare an Activity Area Plan by late July to show how the requirements and recommendations for operating under the pandemic will be met.

July 15: The budget approved by Pitt’s Board of Trustees executive committee includes a salary freeze, no tuition hikes, a 78 percent reduction in capital spending and a permanent budget cut of 3.7 percent across the board on average, along with a one-time cut of 5 percent.

— Letters go out to 840 staff members who will be eligible for an early retirement package. They must decide by July 30 and retire on Sept. 30.

— Pitt and UPMC will participate in clinical research trials for vaccines against the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The trials are part of the COVID-19 Prevention Network and Operation Warp Speed, the national initiative to accelerate development of a safe and effective vaccine to protect recipients from SARS-CoV-2. 

July 16: U.S. reports new record of daily COVID-19 cases — 75,600 cases 

July 20:  Installation begins in 200 classrooms of technology to assist with remote teaching and learning for Flex@Pitt. The Center for Teaching and Learning releases a Flex@Pitt playbook to help faculty adapt to teaching online and in-person.

— The COVID-19 Medical Response Office announces that students will begin to return to on-campus housing in Oakland on Aug. 11 in groups of 1,500. This staggered approach to student arrival means the process will last until Aug. 31, nearly two weeks after classes start on Aug. 19. Students are asked to quarantine for a week before arriving in Oakland and then for another week in their local housing.

July 23: Provost Cudd tells faculty at an online town hall: “I want to be clear about this: We are not requiring anyone to be physically present in the classroom,” Cudd said. “However, Flex@Pitt provides the possibility for students or faculty to be in the classroom when pandemic conditions allow.”

Sign about building safety rules with blurred person in background

Aug. 10: Jay Frerotte, director of Environmental Health and Safety, announces that Pitt is recruiting Pandemic Safety Ambassadors and Building Safety Concierges to help monitor, but not police, compliance with the University’s health and safety rules. Only those affiliated with Pitt will be allowed in campus buildings; everyone will need to swipe an ID and have their temperature checked.

Aug. 11: Students begin a phased returned to Oakland. Pitt is randomly testing around 400 students in each group of 1,500. Students, faculty and staff who are returning to campus are being asked to watch a health and safety video and acknowledge a Pitt Community Compact about protecting public health. For students, verifying that they’ve read the compact is required if they want to access any of the features of my.pitt.edu, including Canvas and PeopleSoft.

Aug. 19: Provost Cudd says that classes on the Oakland campus will remain virtual until at least Sept. 14. A revised policy on instruction at the Elevated level is issued, saying: “An in-person engagement option can also be provided when there is a definable benefit to in-person instruction and the dean or regional campus president or their designee grants permission via teaching implementation plans.”

Aug. 24: Oakland is the only Pitt campus still at Elevated status. Pitt–Greensburg joins Bradford, Johnstown and Titusville in the more relaxed Guarded level.

Aug. 26: In the first week of the semester, at least eight students and nine Greek organizations are facing discipline because of violations of Pitt’s health and safety rules.

Aug. 27: Heinz Field officials inform the University that fans will not be able to attend football games at the stadium during the month of September.

September: A tent with its own ventilation appears on the Cathedral of Learning lawn for music and theater classes and performance groups to have a safe space to rehearse.

Sept. 1: Of the 230 faculty members who were eligible for the retirement incentive program Pitt announced this summer, 55 decide to take the deal, according to the provost’s office.

Sept. 4: Pitt revises its standards and guidelines for face coverings, which are now required for students, staff and faculty anytime they are in public in Pitt buildings or outdoors on campus, with very few exceptions.

Sept. 8: Pitt’s COVID-19 Dashboard reports 128 students have tested posted for the virus since Aug. 1, when students began returning to the Oakland area; of those, 78 remain in isolation. There were 36 cases reported between Sept. 4 and 8. The COVID-19 Medical Response Office said 80 percent of the cases are among students living off campus. 

Sept. 18: Total positive cases among students in Oakland since Aug. 1 hits 203, well behind the numbers many other large universities are reporting.

Sept. 22: U.S. surpasses 200,000 deaths from COVID-19

Sept. 24: Cudd confirms the University will continue to use Flex@Pitt in the spring semester.

Chancellor Gallagher on Zoom screen

Sept. 25: Chancellor Gallagher tells the Board of Trustees that research funding was up slightly, while money from tuition and fees and the return on investments have remained stable. The University did have $50 million in expenses related to the pandemic in the first half of the year, including $18 million for student refunds, $27 million in lost revenue in other areas and $13 million to prepare the campuses to transition to accommodate students, staff and faculty during the pandemic. Undergraduate enrollment on the Pittsburgh campus has gone up in all areas, except international students, for a total increase of 6.6 percent, but graduate enrollment is down 1.7 percent.

Sept. 28: Global COVID-19 deaths surpass 1 million

Sept. 30: Pitt will delay the start of the spring semester until Jan. 19, 2021, skip spring break and end the semester as originally planned on May 1, according to an email from Provost Cudd. There will be two student self-care days on Feb. 23 and March 24. Staff and faculty, who normally get the Friday of spring break week off as a holiday, will now get a paid day off on May 7.

Oct. 1: The voluntary staff early retirement program announced in June has led to the departure of 453 staff members out of 840 who were eligible, or about 59 percent. Their last day was Sept. 30.

Oct. 7: Pitt tests roughly 75 percent of Litchfield Tower B residents after the COVID-19 Medical Response Unit notices an increase in cases in the building. No new cases are. 

Oct. 19: The Oakland campus moves to the Guarded Risk operating posture, allowing more in-person classes and student activities and opening up indoor dining spaces. Overall, there have been 297 student cases since Aug. 1 and 17 employees.

Oct. 20: Pitt­–Bradford joins Pitt–Johnstown in moving to the Elevated status, after COVID-19 cases increase both on campus and in the surrounding areas.

Nov. 4: U.S. reports unprecedented 100,000 new cases in one day

— A voluntary early retirement program, similar to those offered earlier this year to faculty and staff, is created for Pitt employees who are represented by unions. The targeted retirement date for those who choose to take the package is May 1, 2021.

Nov. 10: The COVID-19 Medical Response Office reports 73 students have tested positive on the Oakland campus since the last report on Nov. 6. That brings the total since Nov. 3 to more than 100. The rise is blamed mostly on parties over Halloween weekend. Students are asked to start sheltering in place five days earlier than originally planned to make sure they are not infected before traveling home.

Nov. 23: Pa. Health Secretary Rachel Levine announces a stay-at-home advisory as cases, deaths and hospitalizations continued to increase.

Nov. 25: Students started leaving campus on Nov 20; residence halls close at 5 p.m. Nov. 25. Classes are scheduled to resume on Jan. 19. There are 52 students still in isolation, who can choose to stay on campus.

Dec. 1: The annual Christmas Day at Pitt volunteer community event has been canceled. 

Dec. 9: The Pitt–Titusville and Pitt–Greensburg campuses move from Guarded to Elevated Risk.

Dec. 10: Gov. Wolf orders a three-week closure of a wide range of businesses where people gather — indoor dining, bars, theaters, casinos and fitness centers — which will begin on Dec. 12 and go through 8 a.m. Jan. 4. A record number of COVID-19 deaths have been recorded for each of the past two days, and 11,972 new cases were reported on Dec. 10, according to the state Department of Health.

Dec. 11: The FDA issues emergency use authorization for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine — the first available in the U.S.

Dec. 12: From Dec. 12 to Jan. 10, the majority of University buildings are closed and locked.

Dec. 18: The FDA issues an emergency use authorization for a second COVID-19 vaccine, which is made by Moderna.

Dec. 21: Most Pitt employees will be on paid leave from Dec. 21 until Jan. 4. Three days were added to the winter break “in appreciation of the extraordinary efforts of our faculty and staff and to keep our community safe.”

Dec. 27: President Trump signs a second stimulus package that includes $22.9 billion in COVID-19 relief funding for higher education. Pitt will receive $30.6 million, half of which will go to direct student aid and the other half will be used to cover COVID-19 related costs.

Jan. 13, 2021: Even though classes will still begin remotely on Jan. 19, the University announces that move in for Oakland students living in residence halls will begin on Jan. 29 and continue until Feb. 5. Students in off-campus housing also are asked to delay their return until Jan. 29. The regional campuses have specific move-in schedules starting on Jan. 29. Students also are being asked to shelter in place for seven days before arriving on campus and 10 days after the last cohort returns to campus.

Jan. 15: The global death toll from COVID-19 passes the 2 million mark.

Jan. 21: Surveillance testing will continue for students during the spring semester, but Pitt has decided not to expand that program to faculty and staff. Instead, the University is recommending targeted COVID-19 testing for faculty and staff in specific circumstances based on exposure.

Jan. 27: Gallagher says the lost room and board on the Oakland campus for the two-week delay is about $4.4 million. Around 1,000 students have chosen not to return to Pitt housing for the spring, while another 400 who weren’t on campus in the fall are coming back for the spring. The net loss of about 600 occupied beds will result in a loss of an additional $3 million.

Man in face shield giving vaccine

Jan. 28: The Allegheny County Health Department conducts a vaccination clinic on Jan. 28 and 29 at the Petersen Events Center for people in the 1A category, including students with front-facing jobs in the health industry.

Feb. 17: Even though the Pennsylvania Department of Health has approved the University of Pittsburgh as a COVID-19 vaccine provider, Melissa McGivney, the associate dean for community partnerships at the School of Pharmacy, says that due to high demand and low supply, the University falls behind “a very long line of people who’d like to provide the vaccine.” 

Feb. 22: U.S. surpasses 500,000 known COVID-19-related deaths.

March 5: Pitt says it will host a combination of in-person and virtual ceremonies for the Class of 2021commencement, between April 30 and May 24.

— The University announces that the Pittsburgh, Bradford and Titusville campuses will move to Guarded Risk on March 11. Greensburg moved to Guarded Risk on Feb. 22. Johnstown remains at Elevated Risk.

NOW: More than 2.5 million people have died of COVID-19 worldwide. It took six months to hit the 1 million mark in late September, but just four months to add another 1 million by mid-January. Since then, another 500,000 people have died. The U.S. leads the world in the number of deaths with more than 530,000 since March 2020.

— As of March 9, Pitt's Oakland campus has reported 914 cases among students and 192 among employees since Aug. 1, 2020, when students began returning to campus. Johnstown has had 88 student cases and 17 employees in the same time period. Bradford has had 31 students and 7 employees test positive, and Greensburg has reported 13 student cases and six employees.

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at suejones@pitt.edu or 724-244-4042.


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