UArizona Partners With Community on COVID-19 Efforts

two men stand by a manhole, with one scooping a bottle of liquid from it

Testing campus wastewater for the presence of COVID-19 is one key strategy in the university's efforts to manage the virus.

Chris Richards/University of Arizona

The University of Arizona is partnering with the Tucson community on a number of efforts to help curb the spread of COVID-19 on and around campus.

UArizona President Dr. Robert C. Robbins and Campus Reentry Task Force Director Dr. Richard Carmona gave an update on some of those efforts today.

Among the initiatives are:

  • A Campus Area Response Team, or CART – a collaboration between the university and the Tucson Police Department – has been established to respond to reports of gatherings that violate city ordinances and undermine health and safety guidelines
  • TPD and the university's Community Relations team are also responding to complaints or messages of concern about homes in neighborhoods around the university. This is a partnership with neighborhood associations, City of Tucson Wards 3 and 6, and Pima County District 5.

    Representatives from these parties, as well as community members, visit the homes and share COVID-related best practices, good neighbor principles and details of the city's RedTag ordinance on unruly gatherings. Concerns about disturbances should be reported to 911 and or the UArizona Neighborhood Hotline at 520-282-3649, Robbins said.

  • University neighbors, including the Marshall Foundation and business in the University Boulevard, Fourth Avenue and downtown areas, are being encouraged to reinforce health and safety directives. In addition, sororities and fraternities are being asked to assign a person at each house to address compliance issues.

Robbins and Carmona urged members of the campus community to follow public health guidelines, especially as the holiday weekend approaches.

"We encourage everyone: Please do not have large gatherings," Robbins said. "We know that is ripe for transmission of this deadly virus."

Carmona, who served as the 17th U.S. surgeon general and has been leading the Campus Reentry Task Force, appealed directly to students to help keep in-person operations going on campus, saying: "It's up to you, now."

"For the privilege of being here, you have to help us," said Carmona, a distinguished professor in the university's Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health. "You are our greatest strength, but you are our greatest weakness if you don't comply with these public health best practices."

Test, Trace, Treat Efforts Continue on Campus

The university's efforts with the community are in addition to health and safety measures in place on campus, which include, among other things, a face covering mandate, enhanced cleaning protocols and physically distanced classrooms.

To help encourage compliance with health and safety directives, the university has hired monitors from a private security company to patrol campus, focused especially on face coverings and physical distancing, Robbins said.

In addition, student members of the COVID Ambassador Team have been passing out water on campus and providing information about public health protocols.

"Prevention begins with advancing the culture of compliance and collaboration and cooperation," Robbins said.

The university also continues to conduct widespread testing as part of its Test, Trace, Treat strategy.

Between July 31 and Aug. 31, the university had administered 11,319 antigen tests, with 103 positive results, and 442 polymerase chain reaction tests, with two positive results. All students who live on campus were required to test negative for COVID-19 prior to moving into their dorms. Students living off campus and university employees are encouraged to sign up for free testing as well.

Antibody testing is also available for campus community members and the general public, with sign-up available online. Antibody testing involves a blood draw and can indicate whether a person has had an immune response to the virus due to a previous infection. The antibody test available on campus was developed by UArizona researchers.

In partnership with the state and local health department, members of the university's SAFER team, which stands for Student Aid for Field Epidemiology Response, are initiating contact tracing for those on campus who test positive for COVID-19.

Robbins urged students to cooperate with contact tracing efforts. He emphasized that contact tracing teams are barred from sharing personal health information, and they will not report students for attending parties.

"Their focus is to protect the community by providing health care officials with information about potential close contacts of those who have tested positive," he said.

The university has also launched the COVID Watch Arizona smartphone app, which allows users who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 to anonymously notify others who may have been exposed. The app has been downloaded 12,889 times.

Another key effort on campus is wastewater testing in dorms and other university buildings, led by Ian Pepper, director of the UArizona Water and Energy Sustainable Technology Center and a BIO5 Institute member.

Wastewater-based epidemiology can be used to determine if the virus is present in a community, even if individuals are asymptomatic. Last week, following a positive wastewater test result in one campus dorm, the building's 311 residents  were tested for the virus and three positive cases were confirmed. Isolation and care protocols were set for those students, effectively thwarting what might have become a much larger outbreak. Possible expansion of the wastewater testing program on and off campus is being discussed, Robbins said.

The university will continue to offer most of its courses in an online format next week, Robbins said.

About 5,000 students are attending in-person "essential courses," such as labs and performing arts studios. Public health data will dictate when additional in-person instruction can resume on campus.

"The university will continue to monitor and adapt to public health conditions both on and off campus," Robbins said.


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