The University of Arizona will return to classes on Wednesday in stage 1 of its reentry plan where students can attend in-person instruction for essential courses, UA President Dr. Robert Robbins shared in a news conference Monday.
The university implemented a COVID-19 “testing blitz” from Jan. 6-12 where all dorm residents, students attending in-person classes and those who plan to spend time on the main campus must receive a coronavirus test.
So far, 108 individuals have tested positive out of 6,184 tests during the blitz. From Jan. 4-10, UA found 179 positive coronavirus cases after administering 8,060 tests for a positivity rate of 2.2%.
Out of the 1,336 students who have moved into their campus residences, nine have moved into isolation dorms and seven are self-quarantining off-campus, Robbins said. Most dorm residents will move in within “the next several days,” he said.
All students coming from outside Pima County for the spring semester are expected to self-quarantine off-campus for seven days.
Throughout the semester, students living in dorms or attending in-person classes will be required to take a COVID-19 test every week. Those who test positive will be provided an isolation dorm to self-quarantine.
UA Reentry Task Force Director Richard Carmona discussed alarming state and countywide data that shows the widespread transmission of the virus.
In Arizona, COVID-19 cases have increased by 52% and deaths 137% during the past 14 days.
Carmona called coronavirus cases in Pima County “off the chart” as 1,189 cases were reported Monday. However, the actual number may be higher due to a backlog of cases yet to be reported.
“The numbers are still very, very challenging, and we are extremely concerned about a lag in data and the fact that we have not yet fully appreciated the burden that we’re going to accept from all the travel over Christmas and New Year's,” Carmona said.
Robbins estimated by Jan. 22, UA will serve as a point of distribution for COVID-19 vaccines when phase 1B of vaccination rollout begins as early as this week.
Five other locations will also serve as vaccine distribution points - Tucson Medical Center, Banner North Cancer Center, Rillito Park, Kino Banner South/Kino Stadium District and the Tucson Convention Center, according to a memorandum from Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry.
Many nurses, medical students and physicians at Banner University Medical Center have received vaccines as part of group 1A of healthcare workers and emergency medical service workers, according to Robbins.
UA faculty and staff will be eligible for the vaccine as part of phase 1B, which includes prioritized essential workers in education and protective services, essential workers in fields like transportation and government, adults in congregate settings with high-risk medical conditions and those over 75.
However, given the hundreds of thousands of individuals set to receive the vaccine in the next phase, Robbins said 1B vaccinations could run into the fall.
“I’m very enthusiastic and hopeful about getting as many people vaccinated as fast as we possibly can,” Robbins said. “However, that’s going to take us several weeks to months to do that and I believe we’re going to be in this test, trace and treat modality for the entire spring semester. I even think it’s possible it will roll into the fall semester.”