The University of Arizona’s virtual university status update team met on Monday, Aug. 30, to reflect on the first week back for students, the spread of the delta variant in the community and current events.
UA President Dr. Robert C. Robbins opened the meeting with a continued plea to students to get vaccinated and tested regularly. He emphasized that masks are required in indoor spaces where students cannot properly socially distance themselves, as marked by signs on campus.
“I'm happy to report a week into this that there's been great compliance on the masking requirements,” Robbins said.
The president also urged students who have been vaccinated to upload their vaccine card at vaccine.wellcheck.arizona.edu in order to be eligible for university incentives.
Robbins then pivoted to address the recent U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and the surge of the Taliban – members of a militant religious and political group – back into power. This change to the region alongside drought prompted many to flee, contributing to a humanitarian crisis.
“I also want to note the potential impact of recent events in Afghanistan and express my support for our students with ties to the region, whether family relationships or from service in the military or foreign service,” Robbins said.
Robbins explained that the university is working in coordination behind the scenes at local and national levels to help relocate families in Afghanistan with ties to the university.
Vice President of Communications Holly Jensen added that efforts are being made to evacuate people in Afghanistan with a connection to the university, and that anyone who knows someone in the region should report the name to the Government and Community Relations team.
“Tomorrow [Aug. 31] is our deadline, so we're asking anybody who may know of somebody who is stuck inside Afghanistan to please reach out to our Government and Community Relations team,” Jensen said. “You can also reach out through our Vet Center, and we will get those names added to the list to try to get those people out.”
Dr. Richard Carmona then presented on the COVID-19-related statistics at the local, state and national levels. He noted that while the state and county rates of new cases remain relatively low compared to the nation, there are key concerns moving forward.
According to Carmona, ICU bed availability is around 9-10%. Additionally, he noted that with schools starting, Labor Day approaching, snowbirds coming to Arizona for vacation and flu season beginning, there is a possibility of another surge in cases in the near future.
“The numbers show that we've done a pretty good job in Pima County and at the university. But, in the larger context of our state and our nation, there are some challenging times ahead of us,” Carmona said.
The meeting proceeded to a question and answer session. During this portion of the meeting, Robbins addressed increased COVID-19 testing through dormitory wastewater. 1,200 students received a COVID-19 rapid antigen test on Friday and zero tested positive for COVID-19, according to Jensen.
Robbins commented that some dorms were found through wastewater epidemiology to have low-to-moderate signal in the wastewater associated with presence of molecules specific to COVID-19. However, the university cannot require all students inhabiting those dorms to receive a COVID-19 test based on restrictions at the state level.
“We found no positive test. Now, one of the reasons is because we could not mandate and require everyone to be tested,” Robbins said “We feel pretty comfortable if we get a really strong hot signal out of one of the dorms … we're going to plead our case vigorously to DHS, that we will require everyone in that facility to be tested.”
Carmona also addressed his new position working with Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and his team to help to promote vaccination and to inspire public adherence to health policies that minimize the spread of COVID-19.
When asked about the dynamics of working with the governor, who Carmona has publicly disagreed with on the issue of vaccination and mask mandates, Carmona responded by affirming his desire to promote public health beyond political divisiveness.
“I'm not saying I agree with them, what I'm saying is we've got to move on past a political debate,” Carmona said. “We need to inspire people to do the right thing, there is no restriction for people who are well informed to make the right decision, to be able to get vaccinated and adhere to public health guidelines.”
The VUSU team will meet again next Monday, Sept. 7.
Follow Hillary Schiff on Twitter