July 20, 2020

Dear Students:

This message—the COVID-19 Medical Response Office’s inaugural update—is dedicated to sharing some key details about the University of Pittsburgh’s strategy for welcoming students to campus next month.

Chancellor Patrick Gallagher and Senior Vice Chancellor Anantha Shekhar have charged our office with leveraging the University’s deep scientific and medical expertise and using it to help advance our mission within the pandemic. We have developed a combined surveillance testing and sheltering-in-place strategy to minimize the infection risk as students begin arriving on our campuses. This plan incorporates public health guidance as well as available data from the medical literature on viral replication, incubation periods, transmission and testing technology.

For this update, we worked closely with both the University’s Healthcare Advisory Group and UPMC to pin down some specific details about kicking off the fall term. We also identified several topics that we plan to cover in greater detail at a later date. 

Embracing a Safer Start to College Life

We will be requiring all Pitt students—including students living off campus—to shelter in place upon arrival. Students will only be permitted to attend classes in person once their 14-day shelter-in-place period is complete. As a result, some students may need to attend classes remotely even after in-person classes have begun.

For students living in University housing, the 14-day sheltering-in-place requirement will occur in two parts: seven days immediately before and seven days immediately after a student’s arrival on campus. Residence Life teams, working in partnership with the COVID-19 Medical Response Office, will offer activities for such students to safely socialize during this time.

For students residing outside the University housing system, sheltering in place will occur for 14 days across any combination of off-campus accommodations. For example, if a Pittsburgh campus student begins to shelter in place at home on Aug. 10 before moving to off-campus housing in Oakland on August 18 and then continues to shelter in place, this student can attend in-person classes starting Aug. 24.

Adopting a Phased Arrival on the Pittsburgh Campus

On Aug. 11, we will begin moving students into University housing on our Pittsburgh campus. Pitt will assign specific move-in windows to incoming residents and welcome approximately 1,500 students at a time. On Tuesday, July 21, Panther Central will email new incoming students and confirm their housing assignment. All students on campus will receive assigned arrival dates and times later this week.

Throughout the move-in process, the COVID-19 Medical Response Office will closely monitor student health and campus conditions and be prepared to pause or revise the arrival schedule at any time. This approach prioritizes the health and well-being of our university community over our traditional move-in routine. Our office considers this a worthwhile trade-off and estimates that—barring any strategic pauses—all Pittsburgh campus students should be moved into University housing by Aug. 31. Due to this phased arrival approach, some students will be able to attend an in-person class earlier than others. In addition, we anticipate some students having to start classes remotely in their permanent residence before coming to campus.

The COVID-19 Medical Response Office is working closing with regional campuses to ensure campus move-in procedures meet our goal of safely moving all students into campus housing.

Implementing Robust Screening and Testing Measures

The COVID-19 Medical Response Office, working in close collaboration with UPMC, is prepared to test up to 400 incoming students daily to learn about the prevalence of the virus across our five-campus system. Throughout the shelter-in-place period, we will also screen students for COVID-19 symptoms, including conducting daily screens on all on-campus residents.

The University’s strategy for containing the virus throughout the fall term utilizes rapid testing in addition to rigorous contact tracing, and safe isolation and quarantine options. Students who show symptoms of infection will have access to testing with results returned within 24 hours, courtesy of our longtime partnership with UPMC.

As part of our planning process, we have identified and prepared isolation facilities at each Pitt campus. Students who exhibit COVID-19 symptoms will be able to live in these facilities—separated from others—for an extended period of up to 14 days.

Looking Ahead

Our office will be issuing regular updates—including on the following topics:

  • Sheltering-in-place guidelines, which will apply to students across all five Pitt campuses.
  • General travel recommendations, as it will be important for students to travel to campus safely to avoid exposure.
  • Our approach to close contact tracing, isolation and quarantine.

We know you have questions. We hope to answer many of them in future updates. We also suggest bookmarking coronavirus.pitt.edu, which is the University’s dedicated hub for all pandemic-related news, including all updates from our office.

In the meantime, please know that the entire Pitt community is getting ready and excited to welcome you to campus—virtually or in person—soon.


Drs. John Williams and Chris O’Donnell  
with the University of Pittsburgh’s COVID-19 Medical Response Office

Monday, July 20, 2020