UArizona Plans for Holidays, Spring Semester Amid National COVID-19 Spike

wildcat statue wearing masks

The Wildcat Family statue was outfitted with masks amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chris Richards/University of Arizona

Increasing coronavirus cases nationwide are causing concern for University of Arizona leaders in the weeks leading up to the holidays.

Although Pima County is faring better than many other areas, there was a spike in large gatherings of over 100 people reported to the Campus Area Response Team, or CART, over the Halloween weekend, President Robert C. Robbins said in his weekly campus reentry briefing, delivered virtually.

While only one gathering over 100 people was reported the week of Oct. 19, seven were reported the week of Oct. 26 to CART, a collaboration between the university and the Tucson Police Department, said Campus Reentry Task Force Director Dr. Richard Carmona, 17th U.S. surgeon general and a Distinguished Professor in the Mel & Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health.

"As I have said, this could create a problem for holiday travel plans if it leads to an increase in cases," Robbins said.

The university is currently allowing courses of up to 50 students to meet on campus as UArizona continues in stage two of its reentry plan, where it plans to stay until Nov. 26 if public health conditions allow for it. After Thanksgiving, all courses will transition to being fully online for the remainder of the semester.

The university will require all main campus students to complete a travel survey prior to Thanksgiving, detailing their plans. Students will be asked to choose from three travel options:

  • Travel for Thanksgiving break and complete the semester outside the Tucson area.
  • Travel for Thanksgiving break and return to your student residences to complete the semester online.
  • Do not travel during the Thanksgiving break and complete the semester from your student residence.

The university also will conduct a COVID-19 testing blitz from Nov. 9-15 with the goal of reducing travel-related spread of the virus. Additional travel information is available on the university's COVID-19 website.

"This (testing blitz) will give us a clearer picture of the level of viral spread in the student population and the broader campus community," Robbins said.

Between Oct. 23 and Nov. 1, the university saw 79 positives out of 7,122 tests, for a positivity rate of 1.1%, Campus testing numbers are regularly updated on the university's COVID-19 dashboard.

Spring Semester Planning Underway

The university is working on plans to bring students back to campus in the spring, Robbins said.

"Preparations are now critical for us to have the option of continuing in-person instruction in the spring semester," he said. "We can only do so if public health conditions permit us to."

Robbins emphasized that while there has been progress on a vaccine, it is not guaranteed to bring life back to "pre-COVID normal," and even if a vaccine passes clinical trials, it will take time to manufacture sufficient quantities.

"In the meantime, we know how to mitigate the spread of this virus," he said. "We have done so in the classroom, in our research lab and office spaces of the campus so far this semester, and I know we can do the same both on and off campus if everyone follows the rules."

That includes wearing a face covering, physical distancing and frequently cleaning surfaces and washing hands, he said.  


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