Steps for Self-Sampling »Pitt’s surveillance testing strategy for COVID-19 involves randomly testing a percentage of the incoming student population—including undergraduate and graduate students who live on and off campus—who are not experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19. Together with the phased arrival approach, sheltering-in-place strategy and daily symptom screens, Pitt will be able to closely monitor the prevalence of COVID-19 on its campuses and help ensure a safer start to the fall term.

Students selected for random testing will receive an email at their Pitt email address with instructions on the date and time of their test, or scheduling information if they live off campus. This email will be sent 24-48 hours in advance.

Testing will take place at a covered outdoor testing site located just outside Wesley W. Posvar Hall (find it on Google Maps). Students should arrive with their Pitt ID and wearing a face covering at all times and stand in a physically distanced line. Once receiving their testing kit, students will follow nine easy steps to self-collect a sample, drop it off and be on their way. The entire process should take no more than 30 minutes, and on-site testing staff will provide guidance and observe students to ensure they collect the sample the right way and provide and needed assistance.

Surveillance Testing and Outcomes 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) will test ~10% of incoming students who are not experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19 to learn about the prevalence of the virus on campus. Surveillance testing will continue periodically throughout the semester to determine any changes in virus prevalence over time. During the shelter-in-place period, we will screen students for coronavirus symptoms, including conducting daily screens on all on-campus residents and refer those students for evaluation of COVID-19 at Student Health Service. Together with our phased arrival approach, sheltering-in-place strategy, and daily symptom screens, we will be able to monitor the prevalence of COVID19 on our campus and help ensure a safe start to the fall semester.

What should a student expect with surveillance testing?

The Aug. 7 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 and simple, more comfortable to use than the nasopharyngeal swab. It is approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for SARS-CoV-2 testing, and is the technique most widely used by outpatient COVID-19 testing centers.

Why isn’t the University testing all students?

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

Mass testing of asymptomatic young adults places undue stress on an already compromised national testing capacity. In addition, the current reporting lag time for large-scale commercial laboratory testing diminishes the medical relevance of any positive test, and the higher than acceptable percentage of false negative results—and any negative test—may provide a false sense of safety.

Are there more stringent testing measures for those coming from states where incidence is high? If not, why not?

The risk of infection depends on various factors including practicing healthy behaviors and avoiding crowded indoor spaces. Geographic location is only one such factor. Our surveillance strategy is based on guidance from statisticians and epidemiologists in our Graduate School of Public Health and determined to be the best possible approach for Pitt.

What happens when a student tests positive?

That student has the flexibility to either isolate at a University-designated isolation facility or at home. We will then conduct contact tracing to identify people who may have been exposed to the virus. During on-campus isolation, food will be delivered to you, and you 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 for you.