The University of Arizona and Pima County Health Department are recommending students living on or near campus shelter in place for 14 days as the university works to manage an increase in COVID-19 cases, UArizona President Robert C. Robbins, MD, said during a weekly briefing Sept. 14 on the university’s reentry progress.
The recommendation applies to students living in dorms, fraternity and sorority houses, and apartment complexes on or near campus where increased transmission rates have been observed. The specific boundaries are still being determined, said Pima County Public Health Director Theresa Cullen, MD, who joined Dr. Robbins for the briefing.
“We have parts of a geographic area around university that are very concerning to us,” Dr. Cullen said. “Our goal is to have that RT – that (rate of) transmission (number) – less than one. That means if I am infected, I infect less than one person. We have areas right now, based on our GIS (geographic information system) evaluation, where we’re seeing that RT above two. In that case, we worry.”
Dr. Cullen, also an associate professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the UArizona College of Medicine – Tucson, said there is no expectation that transmission of the virus will cease altogether this calendar year, but the shelter-in-place recommendation is designed to slow transmission.
“If we do that, then we have the potential to ensure that the transmission that we’re seeing right now will go back down,” she said.
Dr. Robbins said the university expected to see an increase in cases, but it has become too much, necessitating a shelter-in-place recommendation similar to what the state faced in the spring.
“This will include exceptions for individuals going to work and attending those limited in person classes – for labs, fine arts, performers – that are being held currently and for basic necessities, obviously, like food, medical care (and) prescription drugs, although we encourage people to seek delivery of food and medical care if possible,” Dr. Robbins said.
Exceptions also will exist for those caring for families and engaging in socially distanced outdoor recreation.
Conversations between the university, city and county are ongoing to determine the scope of the recommendation, and additional details will be forthcoming, Dr. Robbins said.
Most Courses Remain Online, Testing Continues
The university is continuing to offer the majority of its classes in an online format, as it continues to test students for COVID-19 and manage the existing caseload. Fewer than 5,000 students are attending in-person “essential courses,” such as labs and fine arts courses.
As part of its Test, Trace, Treat strategy, the university is offering both antigen tests and polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, tests. Both types of test use a nasal swab to detect an active infection. The university also has been working with Pima County to test additional students living off campus and do contact tracing for those who test positive.
On Friday, 133 of the 1,512 tests conducted on campus tests came back positive, for a positivity rate of 8.8%. Those tests included students living on and off campus, as well as university employees. Campus testing results are updated regularly on the university’s COVID-19 website.
In addition to testing individuals for COVID-19, the university is working to expand its wastewater testing program, which has been used to detect the presence of the virus in dorms and other campus buildings. Testing will expand to 12 additional dorms, 23 fraternity and sorority houses and some off-campus locations, Dr. Robbins said.
The university also has launched an exposure notification app that allows users who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 to anonymously notify others who may have been exposed. The Covid Watch Arizona app has been downloaded 17,274 times.
The university continues to work with the city and county to encourage compliance with public health measures both on and off campus, Dr. Robbins said.
Following the rules is critical, Dr. Robbins said, and he again pleaded with students to adhere to public health guidelines, including the shelter-in-place recommendation, which he referred to as a “last-ditch effort.” Failure to do so could result in moving even essential courses online, he said.
“I hope that a few do not destroy our efforts to continue to have the university move forward,” he said.
Click here to view video from the Sept. 14, 2020, Campus Reentry Briefing on YouTube.
The UArizona Health Sciences COVID-19 Research webpage can be found here.
For the latest on the University of Arizona response to the novel coronavirus, visit the university’s COVID-19 webpage.
For UANews coverage of COVID-19, visit https://news.arizona.edu/news/covid19.
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A version of this article appeared originally on the UANews website.
NOTE: Image available upon request.
About the University of Arizona Health Sciences
The University of Arizona Health Sciences is the statewide leader in biomedical research and health professions training. UArizona Health Sciences includes the Colleges of Medicine (Tucson and Phoenix), Nursing, Pharmacy, and the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, with main campus locations in Tucson and the Phoenix Biomedical Campus in downtown Phoenix. From these vantage points, Health Sciences reaches across the state of Arizona, the greater Southwest and around the world to provide next-generation education, research and outreach. A major economic engine, Health Sciences employs nearly 5,000 people, has approximately 4,000 students and 900 faculty members, and garners $200 million in research grants and contracts annually. For more information: uahs.arizona.edu (Follow us: Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | LinkedIn | Instagram).
About the University of Arizona
The University of Arizona, a land-grant university with two independently accredited medical schools, is one of the nation's top public universities, according to U.S. News & World Report. Established in 1885, the university is widely recognized as a student-centric university and has been designated as a Hispanic Serving Institution by the U.S. Department of Education. The university ranked in the top 20 in 2018 in research expenditures among all public universities, according to the National Science Foundation, and is a leading Research 1 institution with $687 million in annual research expenditures. The university advances the frontiers of interdisciplinary scholarship and entrepreneurial partnerships as a member of the Association of American Universities, the 65 leading public and private research universities in the U.S. It benefits the state with an estimated economic impact of $4.1 billion annually. For more information: arizona.edu (Follow us: Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | LinkedIn | Instagram).