UArizona COVID-19 Testing up 34% in Pre-Holiday Blitz

two female students self-administer nasal swab tests

Students self-administer a COVID-19 nasal swab antigen test at the NorthREC testing site at the beginning of the fall semester.

Chris Richards/University of Arizona

The University of Arizona's pre-holiday COVID-19 testing blitz, which began on Nov. 9 and continues through Nov. 25, is succeeding in its goal to test large numbers of students before they head home for the holidays.

The university administered 7,541 tests from Nov. 9-13, UArizona President Robert C. Robbins said today during his weekly virtual briefing on the university's reentry progress.

That's 1,927 more tests than the previous week, for an increase of 34%. Of those 7,541 tests, 4,335 were given to students living off campus, 2,302 were given to on-campus students and 904 were given to employees. There were 65 positive results. Testing numbers are updated regularly on the university's COVID-19 dashboard.

Students are encouraged to participate in the testing blitz before traveling for Thanksgiving, in order to help curb travel-related spread of the virus. Main campus students also were required to complete a survey detailing their travel plans.

After the Nov. 25-26 Thanksgiving break, all university classes will transition to being fully online. Students who travel out of Tucson for the holiday are encouraged not to return to campus and to finish the semester remotely.

Up until Thanksgiving, the university will remain in stage two of its reentry plan, allowing classes of up to 50 students to meet on campus. The university plans to start the spring semester in stage two if public health conditions allow.

COVID-19 testing will be mandatory for all students who plan to live on campus and for those who plan to attend in-person classes in the spring.

"Like most public universities nationwide, we cannot legally mandate testing for other students as a prerequisite for enrollment, such as those who live off campus and are completing classes totally remotely," Robbins said.

However, he added, "The more testing we do, the better."

University students and employees can sign up for testing on the university's COVID-19 website.

As Cases Rise Nationally, Cooperation is Key

COVID-19 cases are on the rise in Arizona as they are nationwide, said Reentry Task Force Director Dr. Richard Carmona, who joined Robbins in the virtual briefing.

That makes it all the more important for members of the university community and others to follow public health guidelines, especially as older "snowbirds" – who descend on Tucson for the warm winter – may require hospital resources for reasons unrelated to COVID-19, said Carmona, 17th. U.S. surgeon general and a distinguished professor in the Mel & Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health.

In Pima County, the R naught, or Rt number – which refers to the average number of people who become infected by a single person with the virus – is now 1.68. In the 85719 ZIP code, which includes the university, the number is 1.33. That's an improvement over the 2.22 number reported for 85719 the previous week but still not as low as desired, Carmona said.

Meanwhile, the number of large gatherings reported to the Campus Area Response Team – a partnership between the university and Tucson Police Department – was up by seven this week. Fourteen gatherings were reported, with four of those gatherings involving between 50 and 99 people.

Carmona stressed the importance of avoiding large groups, wearing masks and remembering that just because you don't have symptoms doesn't mean you don't have the virus.

"We cannot eliminate risk," he said, "but we can certainly reduce risk by the practices we chose to use."

Robbins noted that the university is developing a "freezer farm" of minus 80 degree Celsius freezers to store doses of the COVID-19 vaccine when they become available. He called vaccine progress a "triumph of science."

"This is the fastest any vaccine will have ever been developed in the history of humankind," he said. "I think we should all feel confident that the scientific community is working hard to try to protect all of us and get the economy back open."


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