UArizona Prepares to Test Thousands for COVID-19

three students wearing face coverings walking in front of Old Main

Face coverings are required in university buildings and in outdoor areas where six feet of distancing is difficult to maintain.

Chris Richards/University of Arizona

The University of Arizona is preparing to test thousands of students and employees for COVID-19 as the start of the fall semester draws near.

More than 1,200 students have already been tested for the virus with a nasal swab antigen test, with just one positive result, President Robert C. Robbins said in today's weekly briefing on the campus reentry plan.

An additional 5,000-plus students are expected be tested before they move into campus dorms, beginning Friday at McKale Memorial Center. Students must get a negative result before they are permitted to move in, and students who test positive will be moved into an isolation dorm for a designated period of time.

Students who live off campus also will be strongly encouraged to get tested at a testing site at NorthREC, the recreation and wellness center at the university's Honors Village. Employees will be urged to get a test as well.

"What we're really looking for are the asymptomatic individuals who are positive and they don't know it," Robbins said.

The testing is part of the university's Test, Trace and Treat strategy, which includes diagnostic and antibody testing, traditional contact tracing, an exposure notification app, and on-campus medical care, among other components.

The university is offering three types of tests:

  • Antigen tests are nasal swab diagnostic tests that can be quickly administered and deliver results in one to two hours.
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction, or PCR, diagnostic tests are nasal swab tests considered to be the gold standard for diagnosing the presence of the virus, and results take 48 to 72 hours.
  • The university also will continue to offer its UArizona-developed antibody test, which involves 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.

Robbins said today that the data in Arizona is encouraging as the university prepares for the first day of classes on Aug. 24.

"The slope of the curve continues to go in the downward fashion. Hopefully we've got another 10 days or so to get the curve as flat as we possibly can before we resume the opening of campus on the 24th," he said.

He stressed that following good public health practices will be critical for a successful reopening, including adhering to the university's face covering mandate, which requires face coverings to be worn in university buildings or outdoor spaces where physical distancing is difficult to maintain.

"The data is looking encouraging, but I still have to remind everybody: Wash your hands, cover your face and stay as far away from every person that you can," he said.

Public Health Data Will Inform Reentry

Robbins announced last month that the university will take an on-ramp approach to in-person instruction in the fall. Four classroom formats will be offered: 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.

Most classes – with the exception of certain labs, medical courses, and art or performing arts studios – will start online on Aug. 24. Additional in-person instruction will commence when a set of public health metrics, developed with the help of UArizona public health faculty, are met.  

About half of all classes have some in-person component, but even when in-person instruction resumes, there will be far fewer students on campus than during a regular semester – between 25,000 and 30,000, which is less than half the usual. Campus officials add that they do not expect to see this many students on campus at one time.

Robbins stressed that while he is cautiously optimistic about the fall reentry plan, he and other campus leaders will continue to monitor local, state and national conditions and change course if necessary.  

"We're watching the data every day and we're going to have to be adaptable and resilient as we make our way through this journey of reentering the campus on Aug. 24," he said.


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