COVID Cases Down, Vaccinations Up at UArizona

young woman spits in cup

The university offers a saline gargle test for COVID-19 that involves swishing and gargling a saltwater solution, then spitting it into a tube.

Chris Richards/University of Arizona

COVID-19 case numbers have begun falling nationwide, and the same can be said at the University of Arizona, where last week's test positivity rate was 1.18% – down from 2% the previous week.

However, the state of Arizona still has the highest infection rate in the nation, and improving numbers are not a sign that people should let up on public health precautions such as mask wearing and physical distancing, UArizona President Robert C. Robbins said Monday during his weekly virtual briefing on the university's COVID-19 status.

The national seven-day rolling average of COVID-19 infections, as reported by The Washington Post, is 46 per 100,000 people. In Arizona, it's 74 per 100,000 people – down from 100 the previous week. In Pima County, it's 66 in 100,000, and the county's Rt number – which refers to the number of people typically infected by a single person with the virus – is 0.73.

While the trajectory of the numbers is encouraging, Arizona remains a COVID-19 hotspot, and the university will stay in stage 1 of its reentry plan this week and next week, with only essential courses such as research labs an performing arts classes meeting in person. Other courses will remain online until public health conditions allow for more people to be on campus.  

"Daily cases per 100,000 remain very troubling," Robbins said. "This is of particular importance because some public health experts are anticipating another national surge due to the circulation of new variants of this deadly virus."

At UArizona, where twice-a-week testing is required for students living on campus, 12,780 tests were administered last week, with 151 positives, for a positivity rate of 1.18% A total of 50 students were in isolation dorm beds, which are provided for dorm residents who test positive. The university still has 92% of its isolation beds available. Testing numbers are updated regularly on the university's COVID-19 website.

Meanwhile, the university continues to serve as a COVID-19 vaccine point of distribution, or POD, for Pima County and has increased the number of people it can serve. Open six days a week, the UArizona POD has delivered 5,810 vaccinations to date at its two locations: a drive-through clinic on the University of Arizona Mall and a walk-through clinic at the Ina E. Gittings building. Appointments are required for both locations, and registration is available on the Pima County Health Department website for those in the current prioritized Phase 1B.1 of the county's vaccination plan. The university does not schedule vaccination appointments.

Robbins said the university POD – which aims primarily to serve child care, K-12 and higher education workers –  is expected to deliver 800 shots per day this week, Monday through Saturday. 

He encouraged those who are eligible to get the vaccine to sign up as soon as possible, especially as more news emerges about new variants of the virus.

"We are seeing problematic variants circulate, and the longer the pandemic continues, the more we will have new variants with clinically significant mutations," said Robbins, who is also a medical doctor. "The vaccine will help us reach herd immunity more quickly and have less illness and certainly less mortality in our population."

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