UA president talks about opening empty dorms to healthcare workers

UA president talks about opening empty dorms to healthcare workers
Dr. Robbins said about 8,000-9,000 empty dorm rooms on campus. (Source: KOLD News 13)

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Could healthcare workers move into University of Arizona dorms as they fight the coronavirus? It’s a possibility.

During a Town Hall Teleconference Thursday night, President Dr. Robert Robbins said there were conversations with Banner Health “early on” about opening dorms to workers.

Dr. Robbins said about 500 students have decided to remain on campus to finish the Spring semester, even though the classes have been moved online. Those students were notified this week by Housing & Residential Life that they will be moving to or staying in clean, vacant rooms in Coronado of Honors Village dorms.

That leaves between 8,000 to 9,000 available dorm rooms on campus.

Dr. Robbins said the rooms and facilities could be offered to Banner Health for individuals who need a place to quarantine away from their families or for workers on the front lines who may live far from the hospital.

Moving students who chose to remain on campus would give healthcare providers the option to stay in dorms to “weather this storm during this war we are fighting," Dr. Robbins said.

Other topics discussed during the Town Hall Teleconference:

Early graduation for medical students

Dr. Robbins said the College of Medicine is looking into how they can “rapidly graduate” medical students, possibly by April 1. He said that would give the students the ability to go directly into the workforce to help with an immediate shortage.

Dr. Michael Abecassis, Dean for the College of Medicine- Tucson, said he is working with the College of Medicine in Phoenix to come up with a plan over the next couple of day to try to graduate the fourth-year students earlier so they can help with the “front lines or the back office.”

“We may get to the point where our providers, doctors, nurses on the front lines are getting whittled down in numbers, so we’re preparing for that," Dr. Abecassiss said.

COVID-19 Test Kits

KOLD News 13 told you how a group of seven researchers, led by Dr. David Harris, assembled 1,600 COVID-19 test kits over the course of three days. However, when some of the kits were donated to the Pima County Health Department, there was a problem: the kits contained wooden stick swabs, not plastic. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not allow wooden swabs.

The team of researchers is working to make test kits that can be used by all testing labs. Once at full capacity, Dr. Abecassiss said they could “easily produce” 10,000 to 20,000 kits a day, but right now they are working to get enough of the correct swabs that need to be used for all testing labs.

Dr. Robbins said a distribution plan for the test kits, after supplying Campus Health and serving the U of A community, would be shared with Banner Health and then could be spread to local healthcare facilities.

Other Notes:

- Labs are producing hand sanitizer with plans to ship 200 bottles to the Navajo Nation on Monday.

- The COVID Hotline has received more than 28,000 calls since it launched over the weekend. Health Sciences experts, College of Pharmacy and College of Public Health students are taking calls. You can call 1-800-222-1222 with any questions about COVID-19. The hotline is staffed 24-hours a day.

Copyright 2020 KOLD News 13. All rights reserved.