Although the number of positive coronavirus cases on campus is trending downward, the University of Arizona will again delay phase 2 of its reentry plan and remain open only for in-person instruction of essential courses through the week of Oct. 5, UA President Dr. Robert C. Robbins said in a news conference this morning.
According to the university’s data, on Friday, Sept. 25, UA had a COVID-19 positivity rate of 3.4 percent, with 36 new positive cases out of 1,051 new tests.
This is a significant improvement from a week prior, on Friday, Sept. 18, which saw a 6.4 percent positivity rate and evidence of off-campus gatherings lacking safety precautions against COVID-19.
“We certainly like to see it down under 5 percent, so well done everyone,” Robbins said. “I’m pleased to report that our outreach and enforcement initiatives are having a very positive effect on compliance with public health guidelines.”
The university had 252 students in isolation housing as of Friday evening, with 348 isolation beds available and 43 dorm students isolating off-campus.
According to Robbins, around 5,200 students are attending in-person classes with strict guidelines in place for social distancing, use of protective gear and frequent sanitation. He says cases are not being transmitted in the classroom, but rather, “in off-campus large gatherings.”
The university has a staged plan for reopening but still remains in phase one of the plan, which allows students to attend essential in-person classes only.
Robbins recognized some students’ and faculty’s desire to slowly integrate to more in-person learning, noting it may help improve mental health amid isolating conditions. However, he said the university is not yet ready to move into the next stage of reopening the university.
Robbins says the university is seeing fewer off-campus gatherings and calls regarding public health violations—an important step in quelling the transmission of the virus.
The university responded to 13 properties for violations throughout Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, which Robbins said is four fewer than the week prior.
The previous week, the university issued three university-related red tags, 10 citations and 13 code of conduct referrals to the dean of students. Last weekend, 10 red tags, 19 citations and 25 code of conduct violations were issued.
“This is not a time to become complacent, however,” Robbins warned. “I continue to see groups of students around University Boulevard and elsewhere without face coverings. I beg you, please listen and follow the guidelines.”
Robbins also announced the university’s voluntary 14-day self-quarantine program, in which students were asked to stay home and avoid unnecessary trips, will end tomorrow, Sept. 29.
“We believe there has been a significant positive impact. If case numbers begin to rise again, there may be a need to reinstate this self-imposed quarantine, but if the cases skyrocket again, then working with the county health department, more legal quarantine issues may need to be enacted,” Robbins said.
All asymptomatic students, faculty and staff have access to COVID-19 testing through the university’s “test all test smart” program, while symptomatic individuals can be tested at a campus health center.
According to the university’s Reentry Task Force Director, Dr. Richard Carmona, the number of tests administered by day has decreased toward the end of September. In the future, this could lead to calls for mandatory coronavirus testing on campus.
“As students start to see that as they test positive, they may be quarantined, they’re less likely to want to be tested. So it maybe we have to consider mandatory testing for students who come on campus,” Carmona said.
According to Robbins, the university has the capacity to administer nearly 10,000 tests a week.
“My hope would be that the technology evolves quickly and by the coming months, by January when we all come, that we have the capability of testing at least all the students who come to classes in person,” Robbins said.
While satisfied with a seemingly increased compliance to public health guidelines throughout the university, Robbins still stresses the importance of maintaining public health safety protocols even as the campus’s COVID-19 positivity rate slows.
“I encourage all of you, students, faculty, staff and other members of our southern Arizona community, to continue to follow to rules so we can protect one and another and move forward,” Robbins said. “We cannot control the virus on our own.”