For the past year, COVID-19 has ruled the dialogue about how universities should operate for the new school year. As the fall semester kicks off, the University of Arizona is still working through the issues of bringing normality to campus.
In March 2020, the UA moved to remote learning and it remained until the following year. But now, things have changed.
Walking across campus, students are packed together; classrooms and sports games are back to full capacity. Likewise, there are campus events and Greek Life activities. Almost everything appears to be functioning at a pre-pandemic level.
With all these new changes, though, there is a concern about the spread of COVID-19. In attempts to mitigate and manage it, the UA continues to implement the Test, Trace, Treat tactic led by the COVID-19 response team. In addition, the UA has issued a mask mandate for all in-person classes and meetings.
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Sana Khan, a doctoral student in the College of Public Health who works at the Contact Tracing Team, said that the tracing team works as a middleman between students with positive COVID-19 tests and those close to them. The goal is to provide resources, information and to notify and monitor positive COVID-19 cases.
"Once someone has tested positive for COVID-19, we gather information about people who may have been around them while they were infectious, such as their roommates and close friends, as well as information on any gatherings they may have attended," Khan said. "From there, we notify those people who were exposed so they are able to isolate and get tested if need be.”
According to Khan, students are very compliant with the university’s recommendations on what to do after testing positive for COVID-19.
“It does suck to get sick, but I think that once most students realize what our goal is in collecting contact information, they understand. Most students just want to make sure that their friends and family are all safe,” Kahn said. “We implemented a new system this semester where if students don’t answer our calls, we can push something out to their email since sometimes that can be a bit easier.”
Alexandra Shilen is another College of Public Health doctoral student who works with the tracing team. Shilen mentions the biggest issue is ensuring students know who they have been in contact with.
“This year, there are way more classes in person, which has been a challenge with our contact tracing," Shilen said. "It is a lot harder for students to know who they were in contact with. There are those really big classes, and you could be in contact with people who you don't even know."
Besides the challenges, Shilen mentioned how the vaccine has helped in these situations.
“With the vaccine so widely available, it has been great when we conduct contact tracing, because if we see that a lot of someone’s close contacts are vaccinated, we see a lot less transmission," Shilen said. "I think that is one of the main big differences compared to last school year.”
According to Kahn, students who are fully vaccinated no longer need to be quarantined unless they test positive. The tracing team recommends that those who are vaccinated should get tested three to five days after encountering a COVID-19 positive person.
Joseph Cazzato, an undergraduate student studying business at the UA, talked to the Daily Wildcat about his experience with in-person classes and the vaccine.
“With in-person classes, the university obviously seems a little more chill than last year. However, mask policies are stringent, and there are constant warnings surrounding COVID-19,” Cazzato said. “After the vaccine, it feels like there is less worry in the air. With more in-person events and businesses opening back up, you can tell the vaccine makes people feel safe.”
The UA has closely monitored incidents. UA data reports less COVID-19 cases than this time last year. According to the Sept. 13 status update, the UA has registered 33 new cases compared with the peak of 245 new cases at the start of the fourth week of classes in 2020.
Students and staff are eligible for free COVID-19 testing at various locations on campus.
Editor's note: A superior court judge has struck down the ban on mask mandates since this article has been released. For current updates, visit the Daily Wildcat's article on the court's decision
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