Go the Distance: With Fall Break coming, UA COVID numbers hold steady

As the University of Arizona conducts a pre-fall break testing blitz, its coronavirus numbers are remaining relatively steady, UA President Robert C. Robbins shared in a news conference Monday, Nov. 16.

From Nov. 6 through Nov. 15, UA found 76 positive coronavirus cases after administering 8,651 tests for a positivity rate of 0.9%, the same rate the university reported the previous 10-day period.

On Nov. 9, the university began its "testing blitz" to reduce the spread of COVID-19 as travel is likely to increase over the holiday season. Testing will run through Nov. 25, and students are asked to register for an appointment-only test after completing a survey with their traveling plans.

Robbins said this week, the university has administered 7,541 tests as part of this program, a 34% increase in COVID-19 tests since last week.

If students travel outside the Tucson area over fall break, the university is asking them to complete the semester outside the area or remotely online. Those who don't travel can complete the semester from their student residences.

All students will complete the semester remotely when classes resume Nov. 30. In January, the university will return to stage two of its reentry plan with up to 50 students attending classes in person, according to Robbins.

All students who attend in-person classes in the spring semester will be required to get tested for COVID-19. Robbins said UA will only require tests for on-campus students because they "cannot legally mandate testing for other students as a prerequisite for enrollment."

Reentry Task Force Director Richard Carmona went over statewide COVID-19 data that shows a 14-day increase in cases of 75%, a 29% increase in deaths and a 57% increase in hospitalizations throughout Arizona.

Pima County's R0, pronounced "R naught"—which indicates how contagious a virus is by showing the average number of people who will contract the virus from an infected person—was at 1.68 as of Monday, Nov. 16. The transmissibility rate for the zip code surrounding the university has decreased from 2.22 last week to 1.33 this week, according to Carmona.

"We feel confident that some of our public health practices have been manifest in better numbers, but we are also very concerned of what's happening in the bigger environment, and this is continuing to spread in spite of these good practices," Carmona said.

UA's CART team, a collaboration with the UA and Tucson police departments that looks for noncompliance to COVID-19 precautions, responded to 14 incidents of large gatherings last week. The week prior, they reported seven incidents.

"That tells us that there are still people in our university community who are not taking this seriously," Carmona said. "They're going to social events, which are the cause of the spread... We must do all we can to prevent the spread."

With many expected to travel and meet in large groups over the holidays, Robbins encourages UA students and faculty to continue following safety protocol to help keep cases down as they rise across the state.

"We're doing quite well at the University of Arizona, and now the community around us is seeing a surge," Robbins said. "I would stress that for our university community, stay as much in this semi-permeable bubble that we have...stay inside your dorm and only go out to those absolutely necessary things."

Carmona praised the university's efforts but expressed concern about how the virus has been politicized and said wearing a mask and social distancing should never be political issues.

"We're still a nation divided when we need to come together...This is an invisible enemy who has permeated every part of our society and disrupted it," Carmona said. "We need to face this challenge as Americans and stop this political tomfoolery that has nothing to do with the health safety and security of the nation."

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