The University of Arizona’s virtual university status update team met on Monday, Oct. 4, to discuss COVID-19 public health and safety measures, as well as announce the availability of the Pfizer booster shot for students, faculty and staff. The team was joined by Dr. Theresa Cullen, public health director for Pima County.
Pfizer booster shots now available
President Dr. Robert C. Robbins opened the meeting by noting the upcoming Family Weekend and expressing his appreciation of the people who view the weekly VUSU updates.
He then praised the Pima County Health Department and the community for their efforts in combating the spread of COVID-19, which have resulted in a decrease in transmission of the virus. Similar to previous meetings, Robbins stressed the importance of vaccination and encouraged those who remain unvaccinated to get inoculated against COVID-19.
“The best way to continue improving our public health situation is just to get vaccinated,” Robbins said.
He stressed that vaccines remain important with the spread of the Delta variant, and encouraged the wearing of face coverings indoors no matter vaccination status.
Robbins went on to announce the availability of the Pfizer COVID-19 booster shot at the UA. Robbins stated that individuals are eligible if they received the second dose of their Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine over six months ago, and that boosters are recommended for those age 65 and older, along with those from the ages of 50-64 with underlying medical conditions.
Robbins encouraged UA students and employees to get their regular flu shot and noted the continual growth of the COVID-19 Cats TakeAway Testing program on the UA campus.
Finally, Robbins mentioned Counseling and Psych Services and Life and Work Connections, stressing the importance of mental health and wellness. He also brought up the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences’ Downtown Lecture Series, which will focus on compassion this year.
Robbins then handed the floor to Dr. Richard Carmona, 17th Surgeon General of the United States and a distinguished professor at the UA, to discuss case rates and the public health situation at the university.
COVID-19 transmission still high despite downward trend
Carmona began by stressing the importance of continuing to take measures to stop the spread of COVID-19.
“We shouldn’t get complacent. Yeah, we’re doing a little bit better, but we’re still in a high time of transmissibility,” Carmona said.
The rate of transmission as of Sept. 24 was 0.75% for the UA 0.93% in Pima County. At the time of the last update (Sept. 27), the UA was at 1.37% and Pima County was at 0.99%.
Carmona then covered vaccination rates in Pima County, with a total of 66% of eligible Pima County residents having received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Cullen then gave an update on the COVID-19 public health situation in Pima County. She stressed that Pima County is still in a period of high transmission, which means that there is a minimum 100 cases per 100,000 people.
“You can always think of Pima County as a million people, that means that we have more than a thousand cases a week being reported right now,” Cullen said. “The reason why this is concerning is that the impact of having high transmission not only affects the individuals that are affected, but it affects our healthcare system and our public health system, our ability to respond in a quick and appropriate manner.”
Cullen also stressed the importance of vaccination, stating that more people in Pima County need to get vaccinated.
The briefing was followed with a question and answer segment, where members of the press asked questions about a potential vaccine mandate at the UA.
Robbins stated that there is not currently a plan to implement a vaccine mandate at the UA, despite previous statements that he would implement a vaccine mandate if legislation preventing vaccination mandates was struck down. The legislation was recently ruled unconstitutional under the state constitution by Maricopa County Judge Katherine Cooper.
During the Q&A portion, Robbins also stated his willingness to open discussion with the United Campus Workers of Arizona, the UA’s faculty union, about answering their demands for hazard pay, flexible learning solutions and testing and vaccine mandates.
“There is some hope that as we go into the winter we will see decreasing cases throughout the country,” Cullen said. “There are success stories throughout the country, and many of those success stories are related a lot to what [Robbins] and Dr. Carmona talked about, which is the community will: the willingness of the community to really commit to an overarching vaccine initiative that would increase our vaccination rate. So I wanna let people know that there are places that are not in high transmission, that are in moderate transmission, that have been able to have 42,000 people at a ball game, and nobody cares, nobody worries about it because the vaccination rates are so high.”
Cullen ended her statements by encouraging people not to judge those who have yet to get vaccinated, some of which have issues with access or are worried about side effects that may prevent them from working.
Robbins closed the meeting by encouraging people to keep their masks on throughout family week events.
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