University, County Issue Shelter-in-Place Recommendation for Students

student in face covering on campus

Students don face coverings while on campus on the first day of classes, Aug. 24. Though most classes began in an online format, about 5,000 students attended "essential courses," such as research labs, in person.

Chris Richards/University Communications

Updated 9/15/20

The University of Arizona and Pima County Health Department are recommending that students living on or near campus shelter in place for 14 days as the university works to manage an increase in COVID-19 cases, UArizona President Robert C. Robbins said during Monday's weekly briefing on the university's reentry progress.

The recommendation applies to students living in dorms, fraternity and sorority houses, and apartment complexes on or near campus where increased transmission rates have been observed, said Pima County Public Health Director Dr. Theresa Cullen, who joined Robbins for the briefing.

"We have parts of a geographic area around university that are very concerning to us," Cullen said. "Our goal is to have that RT – that transmission (number) – less than one. That means if I am infected, I infect less than one person. We have areas right now, based on our GIS (geographic information system) evaluation, where we're seeing that RT above two. In that case, we worry."

Cullen said there is no expectation that transmission of the virus will cease altogether this calendar year, but the shelter-in-place recommendation is designed to slow transmission.

"If we do that, then we have the potential to ensure that the transmission that we're seeing right now will go back down," she said.

Robbins said the university expected to see an increase in cases, but it has become too much, necessitating a shelter-in-place recommendation similar to what the state faced in the spring.

"This will include exceptions for individuals going to work and attending those limited in person classes – for labs, fine arts, performers – that are being held currently and for basic necessities, obviously, like food, medical care (and) prescription drugs, although we encourage people to seek delivery of food and medical care if possible," Robbins said.

Exceptions also exist for those caring for families and engaging in socially distanced outdoor recreation.

The off-campus area affected by the recommendation falls within the boundaries of North Sixth Avenue to the west, North Campbell Avenue to the east, East 10th Street to the south and East Helen Street to the North, the county announced Tuesday.

Off-campus housing providers are encouraged to provide isolation housing for any residents who test positive for COVID-19. Students who test positive and live within those boundaries also will be offered the option of staying in isolation dorms on campus.

Apartment buildings in that area with more than 10 residents are being directed by the county to close pools and spas, as well as gyms and recreation, game or fitness rooms. They're also directed to prohibit gatherings of more than 10 people.

In addition, self-quarantine has been recommended for students living in sorority or fraternity houses on or near campus where more than 10% of residents test positive for COVID-19.

Sustained COVID-19 transmission beyond the 14-day period, which runs through Sept. 29, may result in an extension of the recommended time and additional limitations, according to the county. Additional details on the recommendation are posted on the county website.

Most Courses Remain Online, Testing Continues

The university is continuing to offer the majority of its classes in an online format, as it continues to test students for COVID-19 and manage the existing caseload. Fewer than 5,000 students are attending in-person "essential courses," such as labs and fine arts courses.

As part of its Test, Trace, Treat strategy, the university is offering both antigen tests and polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, tests. Both types of test use a nasal swab to detect an active infection. The university also has been working with Pima County to test additional students living off campus and do contact tracing for those who test positive.

On Friday, 133 of the 1,512 tests conducted on campus tests came back positive, for a positivity rate of 8.8%. Those tests included students living on and off campus, as well as university employees. Campus testing results are updated regularly on the university's COVID-19 website.

In addition to testing individuals for COVID-19, the university is working to expand its wastewater testing program, which has been used to detect the presence of the virus in dorms and other campus buildings. Testing will expand to 12 additional dorms, 23 fraternity and sorority houses and some off-campus locations, Robbins said.

The university also has launched an exposure notification app that allows users who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 to anonymously notify others who may have been exposed. The Covid Watch Arizona app has been downloaded 17,274 times.

The university continues to work with the city and county to encourage compliance with public health measures both on and off campus, Robbins said.

Following the rules is critical, Robbins said, and he again pleaded with students to adhere to public health guidelines, including the shelter-in-place recommendation, which he referred to as a "last-ditch effort." Failure to do so could result in moving even essential courses online, he said.

"I hope that a few do not destroy our efforts to continue to have the university move forward," he said.


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