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Pitt Begins Randomized COVID-19 Testing As Students Arrive In Oakland

Students are arriving on campus at the University of Pittsburgh this week. But instead of crowded crosswalks and lines for parking, students pushed freshly sanitized moving carts to their dorm rooms with little downtime.  

The university’s arrival staff worked with its health and safety advisory board to draw up a move-in plan that took months to revise and finalize, according to Olivia Phillips, Pitt’s arrival coordinator. 

That plan includes instructions for all students to shelter in place at home for 14 days prior to arriving on campus. Students living at residence halls are required to shelter in place for seven days at their permanent residence before a second seven-day shelter in place period at their university housing with an assigned social pod.  

Pods will serve like households with podmates sharing bathrooms and other common spaces. Students are allowed to socialize freely with their podmates, and strongly advised against expanding their social circle during the quarantine period.

“Students are expected to stay with their designated pod,” except for necessary errands like food and medication, Phillips said. “At the end of the sheltering in place period they can have a little bit more freedom… [but] still socially distance, still wearing masks and everything,” she said.

Pitt staffers and students are required to wear face masks. Welcome tents where families can sign out moving carts have hand sanitizing stations and plexiglass between students and staff. Phillips noted that each cart is wiped down with disinfectant between uses.

Students began moving into their dorms Tuesday and arrivals will continue through August. Students who arrive with fewer than seven days before their first class will be expected to attend class online until their one-week quarantine requirement can be completed.

Jaime Ely, a freshman communications major, moved into Litchfield Towers Wednesday where elevator capacity was limited to promote social distancing. Ely will start her classes online, but said she’s looking forward to moving into the classroom where she expects to have a better learning experience.

She said she appreciated the precautions Pitt has taken, but is worried about being exposed to COVID-19.

“This virus changes so dramatically,” she said. “You could put so many precautions in place, it’s still not going to stop the spread.”

Credit Kiley Koscinski / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
The University of Pittsburgh will randomly test students at this testing site outside of Posvar Hall.

“I’m glad we have our pods that we’re allowed to associate with, because as a freshman that is a bit of a concern,” Ely said about making new friends. She plans to introduce herself to her podmates once she’s settled in.

Anushka Konka, a freshman biology major, is also looking forward to the unique bond one can expect with a college quarantine pod.

“You kind of have to stay in your pod this week. So I feel like you’re forced to make new friends,” she said.

Konka’s mother, Mallika Narisetti said it was important for her daughter to have a close-to-normal college experience when deciding to bring her to campus. “With all of the precautions Pitt is taking we’re confident that she’ll be able to manage,” she said. “They’ve been constantly communicating their mitigation plans during the pandemic.”

Pitt has also implemented a COVID-19 surveillance testing program to monitor cases on campus. Any student living on or off campus could receive an email with instructions to report to a testing site outside of Posvar Hall where they will be instructed on how to self-administer a COVID-19 swab test.

The first round of random tests were completed Wednesday. A spokesman for the University of Pittsburgh said about 240 students were tested with minimal wait times. Signage at the testing site promotes social distancing if lines do occur.

Pitt also plans to offer 24-hour testing to any student who experiences symptoms of COVID-19.  

Classes are scheduled to begin Aug. 24 and most can be taken in-person or virtually. Students who opt for virtual courses can still choose to live in university housing.