Data Will Determine On-Ramp to In-Person Classes at UArizona

sign on a window that reads "4 people max occupancy"

Signs such as this one in the Health Sciences Innovation Building are going up around campus as the University of Arizona prepares to welcome students back in the fall.

Chris Richards/University of Arizona

Editor's note: For the latest updates, tune in to the next weekly briefing at 10 a.m. (PT) on Aug. 13,

The University of Arizona will use public health data to inform its on-ramp approach to in-person classes in the fall, President Robert C. Robbins said during today's briefing on the campus reentry plan.

"We are taking an on-ramp approach to all in-person and flex in-person classes. As I shared last week, we expect this on-ramp to span several weeks. Its ultimate length will be dependent on the public health conditions in our county, state and our nation," he said.

The university will offer four class formats in the fall: in-person courses with enhanced health protections in place, flex in-person courses that include a mix of in-person and online elements, live online courses in which students and instructors are online simultaneously, and iCourses, which students complete at their own pace through the university's D2L online learning system.

When classes begin on Aug. 24, only select courses, such as research labs, medical courses, and fine arts and performing arts studios, will be held in person. About 5,000 students are expected to resume in-person learning at that time. After that, in-person and flex in-person classes of up to 30 people will begin meeting, bringing an estimated 14,000 people to campus, while larger classes will continue online. Eventually, larger in-person and flex-in person courses will resume on campus, with about 50% of all courses having some in-person component. At that point, between 25,000 and 30,000 people will be on campus, which is less than half the number on campus during a regular semester.

"From the beginning, our plan has been informed by the expertise of our public health faculty who have participated in every level of planning and who will continue to take part in the implementation of our reentry plan," Robbins said. "I want to thank the public health and all other faculty members who in the last week provided valuable input on specific metrics and indicators to enable our reentry, particularly our decisions on the length of the on-ramp."

Those metrics – the specifics of which are in development – will include internal and external indicators in a variety of categories, such as on-campus testing numbers, percentage of positive cases on campus and in the community, percentage of rooms in campus isolation dorms occupied, and the percentage of local ICU and non-ICU hospital beds occupied, said Dr. Richard Carmona, 17th U.S. Surgeon General and director of the Campus Reentry Task Force, who joined Robbins virtually for the weekly briefing.

Robbins emphasized that the university will adjust its plans quickly and accordingly if public health conditions worsen or if there is failure among the campus community to follow good public health practices, including physical distancing, wearing face coverings, limiting daily in-person interactions, and practicing personal hygiene and disinfectant routines.   

"We will be data-driven," he said, "and we will follow the science and the data as we make decisions."

University Will Offer Three Types of Testing

As part of its reentry plan, the university will offer three different types of testing for students and employees.

  • Polymerase Chain Reaction, or PCR, tests are nasal swab tests used to diagnose an active infection, and results may take 48 to 72 hours. These tests are considered the gold standard for diagnosing the presence of the virus.
  • Antigen tests are nasal swab diagnostic tests that can be quickly administered and deliver results within an hour.
  • Antibody tests involve a blood draw and can indicate whether a person has had an immune response to the virus due to a previous infection. Results take seven to 10 days. The antibody test that will be administered on campus was developed by UArizona researchers.

All students who live on campus will be required to take an antigen test and receive a negative result before they are permitted to move into their dorms. Students who test positive will be assigned to a quarantine dorm for a designated period of time.

Robbins encouraged off-campus students and employees to consider getting tested as well, noting that asymptomatic individuals may have the virus and not know it.

"I want to strongly encourage every person returning to campus to come and get a test," he said. "It'll be a fast test, it'll be an antigen test, you'll have an answer on your phone within an hour."

Robbins said more details on the testing process will be announced soon.


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