UArizona President Urges Continued Diligence to Control COVID-19 Spread
UArizona officials are looking at test results, wastewater analysis in dorms, and campus compliance with public health measures to help determine how the university will operate.
Since the start of the semester on Monday, University of Arizona students have largely done a good job complying with the university's face covering policy and other safety measures designed to mitigate risk for COVID-19, President Robert C. Robbins said during today's weekly briefing on the campus reentry plan.
However, the campus community must remain diligent, he urged.
"To stop the spread of this deadly virus, we need to follow the rules," Robbins said. Failure to do so, he said, could result in disciplinary action.
Robbins acknowledged that student behavior off campus is harder to control, and said there have been some concerning instances of large gatherings with no physical distancing.
"We have to do a good job of not having these big crowds, these off-campus parties, and we'll continue to message that and try to help people understand this is a true public health crisis and an issue," he said. "And for us to have the privilege of continuing to have the university stay open, we have to follow the rules – frequently, meticulously wash your hands, cover your face, stay as far away from as many people as possible."
Most UArizona classes started virtually this week, but about 5,000 students were expected to attend in-person "essential courses," such as labs and performing arts studios.
Courses will continue in the same format next week, Robbins said, and public health data will help inform when additional in-person instruction can begin on campus.
COVID-19 testing results are an important part of the data. The university is administering nasal swab antigen tests to every student who lives on campus. Students must test negative for the virus before they can move into a dorm. Testing is also being encouraged for students who live off campus and for university employees, who can sign up for testing online. As of Aug. 26, 10,126 tests had been performed, with 46 positive results. Testing results are posted and updated daily on the university's COVID-19 website.
As part of its Test, Trace, Treat strategy, the university also is offering Polymerase Chain Reaction, or PCR, tests, considered the gold standard for diagnosing the presence of the virus, as well as antibody tests, which involve 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.
The university is also analyzing wastewater to help track the presence of COVID-19 on campus in an effort 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. Researchers are using the technique in campus dorms.
"What we really need to find out is who are the people who are asymptomatic that are positive," Robbins said. "So, this random testing, this use of wastewater-based epidemiology is going to be really important, as well as watching the compliance metrics of how many people are covering their faces, how many people are downloading the app for contact tracing, how many people are completing their daily Wildcat Wellness Check."
The Covid Watch Arizona exposure notification app launched for the campus community last week. More than 11,000 people have downloaded the smartphone app, which allows users who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 to anonymously notify others who may have been exposed.
In addition, students and employees on campus are required to sign up for Wildcat Wellcheck, which asks users to complete a daily health check by answering simple questions via text message or email.
Robbins emphasized that all metrics are being monitored closely and the university will change course if needed.
"Daily, we're watching this," he said. "Dr. (Richard) Carmona and his ICS (Incident Command System) team, along with our public health advisory team, are working very, very closely every day to try to continue to watch the data and let that guide how we're operating the campus."
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