The University of Arizona’s COVID-19 reentry task force met Monday for the second briefing of the spring semester. The force discussed procedures for the first week of the spring semester and increasingly grim COVID-19 data.
University President Dr. Robert C. Robbins reiterated his announcement from last week that the UA will begin the spring semester in Phase 1 of the reentry protocol, which permits only “essential” classes of 50 or less to meet in person.
Robbins also touched on the university’s partnership with the county and their progress with vaccine distribution.
“As I said in a message to our employees,” Robbins said, “the incident command team has established a vaccination task force that is partnering with the expert team that has been running our testing initiative. As they are working on logistics for immunizing phase 1b qualifying members of the community — this includes people aged 75 years and older, education and childcare providers including k-12 and higher education institutions in the county, protected service occupations, law enforcement, corrections, firefighters and other emergency response staff."
Though the details and specifications have yet to be fleshed out, Robbins said he hopes that the university will have the means to vaccinate all students by April. Until then, the president reminded students that all who return to the university to live on campus or take in-person classes must observe a seven-day self-quarantine, with the exception of going out to attend classes, obtain food and medical care, see family, etc.
The task force reported 1,116 undergraduate students and 220 graduate students have returned to Tucson. Among those who have tested positive through the university’s testing initiative, nine have moved into isolation dorms and seven are isolating off-campus.
“The self-quarantine — in addition to the countywide curfew from 10:00 p.m. to 5:00. a m. daily — will help to mitigate the spread of Covid-19,” Robbins stated.
The president also reminded all members of the university community (students, staff and faculty) to register for the Wildcat Wellness Check. Registrations from the fall semester will not carry over to the spring semester. Individuals can automatically reenroll by texting “join” to 35106.
Holly Jensen, vice president of communications for the UA, urged students, faculty and staff to pick up their two free masks at the bookstore in the UA Bookstore. She also asked all members of the university community to download the Covid Watch Arizona app on their phones, which is now being used state-wide for COVID-19 contact tracing.
Task force Director Dr. Richard Carmona prefaced his presentation of the previous week's data by expressing concern that the data available does not yet represent the full picture.
“The numbers are still very, very challenging,” Carmona said, “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 of the travel over Christmas and New Years.”
COVID-19 case numbers in the state of Arizona have soared to 52% in past weeks. Recorded deaths have spiked to 137%, and hospitalizations are up 18% in the same time period.
In the university community, 8,060 tests were conducted in the past 10 days yielding 179 positives, a positivity rate of 2.2%. This is down from last week’s reported 10-day positivity rate of 4.0%.
Still, Carmona cautioned again that the data is not yet an accurate depiction of the current situation.
“None of us should feel complacent that for a moment in time we see a little bit of a change that looks good,” Carmona insisted. “The fact is, we know more data is coming in because of lags and we have not appreciated the full burden of disease from the travel that was experienced during the Christmas and New Year's holiday.”
This week’s reported rate of transmission of the virus looked especially bleak. The Rt for the state (1.13), county (0.95) and university zip code (1.05) are all up from the previous week, the university zip code especially so.
“Unfortunately, Arizona is leading the nation in transmissibility of cases per population," Carmona said. "There’s not one curve that looks decent. They’re all on the rise."
The reentry task force will meet again next Monday morning at 10 a.m.
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