Early TakeAway Testing Shows Promising Results Ahead of Family Weekend

student getting a covid-19 test

A student receives materials and instructions for a COVID-19 swish-and-gargle test during the spring 2021 semester.

Chris Richards/University of Arizona

New cases of COVID-19 are on a downward trend on the University of Arizona campus, a promising sign less than two weeks ahead of Family Weekend, which begins on Friday, Oct. 8.

The most recent day of results, Friday, Sept. 24, had 13 positives from 966 tests, a positivity rate of 1.3%, down from 1.7% two weeks ago, University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins said during a virtual briefing on Monday morning.

"The relatively low rate of positives on campus is also a reminder that masks, social distancing, and regular hand washing work to control the spread of the infection," Robbins said. "This is particularly important as we begin to see the arrival of winter visitors to Tucson and Southern Arizona, and as we are beginning to move toward the holiday season."

Robbins also noted that, a few weeks after Family Weekend, the university will celebrate Homecoming, which will kick off on Oct. 31 and culminate on Nov. 6. Robbins said the university's signature fall events will involve mostly outdoor activities centered around football games, with an Oct. 9 home game against UCLA and a Nov. 6 home game against Cal.

Still, Robbins said he expects all attendees to wear masks and encouraged attendees to be vaccinated or at least get a negative test within a day before attending.

"We don't want people coming to our campus and spreading the disease – it's that simple," Robbins said.

About 10% of the latest testing data is from the university's new Cats Takeaway Testing program, showing that the program has increased students' access to COVID-19 tests, Robbins said.

The takeaway tests, which launched the week of Sept. 13, involves swishing and gargling a saline solution before spitting it into a tube. It can be completed anywhere and then returned to a designated campus location for analysis. No appointment is required.

The program's pickup and drop-off locations include the Health Sciences Library, the Administration Building, Facilities Management, the Global Center, McClelland Hall, the Student Union Memorial Center and the Integrated Learning Center. Those with symptoms can get the test at Campus Health. Robbins noted that other locations have been set up at university sites outside the main campus, including in Phoenix, Sierra Vista and Oro Valley.

The takeaway tests are offered in addition to the university's existing in-person testing options.

The university has not required testing for all members of the campus community, but Robbins has encouraged everyone to get tested weekly, regardless of vaccination status – "something we'll need to do for the foreseeable future," he said.

"I almost look at it that almost everyone should just seek out a test – we've made it really easy," Robbins added. "And at least once a week, just get tested to see where you are because you don't want to be – even though you're asymptomatic – you don't want to be the person spreading this delta variant. So, I continue to emphasize that testing is really, really important for all of us."

Booster Shots Available Oct. 11

Booster shots for COVID-19 vaccines will also be available to members of the campus community at Campus Health beginning Oct. 11. More information, including details about how to book an appointment for a booster shot, will be available soon at Campus Health's COVID-19 vaccine webpage.

Dr. Richard Carmona, 17th U.S. Surgeon General and University Distinguished Professor of Public Health who has joined Robbins on the weekly virtual briefings, spoke of his own experience receiving a booster shot as a participant in a university-led study on COVID-19 vaccine immunity.

"The booster is a good thing," Carmona said. "If you fall into the high-risk group, if you're a transplant patient, if you have cancer, please speak to your doctor or primary care provider to see if you should get a booster and when you should get a booster."