Steps for Self-Sampling »Pitt’s ongoing surveillance testing strategy for COVID-19 involves randomly testing a percentage of the asymptomatic student population throughout the term.

Surveillance testing is one of several strategies we’re using to control the spread of COVID-19 on our campuses. The strategy is designed to detect substantial shifts in trends of positive tests, and helps give a sense of the prevalence of the virus in the larger community.

Undergraduate and graduate students who live both on and off campus are eligible for surveillance testing.

Students selected for random testing will receive an email at their Pitt email address with instructions and information for self-scheduling 24-48 hours in advance. Participation is not mandatory but strongly medically advised. Students who live off campus and never plan to come to any Pitt campus for any reason throughout the term are not required to show up for testing.

Check out this photo essay to see the process on the Pittsburgh campus.

Ongoing Surveillance Testing FAQs

How will Pitt monitor COVID-19 prevalence among students?

Per guidance from statisticians and epidemiologists in our Graduate School of Public Health, the COVID-19 Medical Response Office (CMRO) is testing approximately 280 students on the Pittsburgh campus twice each week who are not experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19 to learn about the prevalence of the virus on campus. Due to the varying virus conditions on the regional campuses, students at the regional campuses are tested monthly.

Why isn’t the University testing all students?

Our approach to testing a percentage of the student population aligns with recommendations by both the CDC and the American Collegiate Health Association.

A single negative test cannot definitively determine that you are not infected, potentially providing a false sense of security. Mitigation behavior – like universal masking – is much more effective than universal testing. Mass testing of asymptomatic young adults places undue stress on an already compromised national testing capacity. In addition, the current lag time for results from large-scale commercial laboratory testing diminishes the medical relevance of the results.

What should a student expect with surveillance testing?

The Aug. 8 message to students from CMRO provides an overview of what to expect with surveillance testing. 

I have heard that collecting a sample with a nasal swab might hurt. Is that true?

The nasal swab used in our surveillance testing protocol is different from a nasopharyngeal swab that you may have seen or heard in the news. The two are often confused. Both use a small, thin, flexible, and very soft swab—but the difference is in the depth. The nasopharyngeal swab is inserted through the nose back to the throat. In contrast, the nasal swab only goes into the nose half an inch. The nasal swab is easy, simple, and more comfortable to use than the nasopharyngeal swab. It is approved by the CDC for SARS-CoV-2 testing, and is the technique most widely used by outpatient COVID-19 testing centers. Thousands of Pitt students have now self-collected nasal swabs without any trouble.

What happens when a student tests positive?

That student will be notified by Student Health Service. They will isolate at a University-designated isolation facility or at home. We then conduct contact tracing to identify people who may have been exposed to the virus through close contact. During on-campus isolation, food will be delivered and students will be checked in on daily by a health care professional from a dedicated support team who will determine the most appropriate course of care.