UArizona sees decline in COVID cases, will keep safety measures in place

four female students wearing masks and walking on campus

Students walk on the University of Arizona campus at the start of the spring 2022 semester.

Chris Richards/University of Arizona

While the University of Arizona has seen a decline in COVID-19 cases on campus, the pandemic is far from over, and the university will continue to require surgical masks in indoor spaces and encourage physical distancing, vaccinations and frequent testing for the remainder of the semester, President Robert C. Robbins said during a virtual briefing Monday.

The university's testing positivity rate was 3.5% on Feb. 4 and 6% for the period between Jan. 25 and Feb. 4. That's down from over 10% earlier in the semester. The numbers are updated regularly on the university's COVID-19 website.

COVID-19 hospitalizations and ICU admissions also are down in Pima County. However, Arizona continues to be above the national average in terms of the number of the number of cases per 1,000 people. The seven-day rolling average in Arizona is 117, compared to 89 nationally, making Arizona 17th highest nationally. Pima County has 118 cases per 100,000 people.

"We've decided to just keep what we have in place throughout the rest of this semester – obviously, watching numbers very carefully – but I think it would be a mistake to relax those at this point," said Robbins, adding that "we're not out of the woods."

Dr. Richard Carmona, 17th U.S. Surgeon General and Distinguished Laureate Professor of Public Health, joined Robbins for Monday's briefing and agreed that while the improving numbers are encouraging, we still have a long way to go.

"There is a possibility that we could have another bump," Carmona said. "We could have variants that will come in and confound us some more, maybe even make it more difficult for our vaccines to work, maybe even make it more transmissible or lethal; we don't know. But that's why we really have to continue to Bear Down and do everything we can to practice the mitigation strategies. And, most importantly, the most important tool in our toolbox: Get vaccinated and get boosted. That's the fastest way to get us out of this pandemic."

Carmona also noted that members of the health care workforce are struggling with pandemic fatigue, and many professionals have left the field, which could lead to staffing shortages.

"We may have enough beds, but we may not have enough people to staff those beds when people are sick, and that's where the public comes in, so that if they adhere to the mitigation standards that we talk about and get vaccinated, that helps us," he said.