COVID-19 concerns spread in neighborhoods surrounding Arizona campus

Updated: Aug. 23, 2020 at 4:38 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - As thousands of students, faculty and staff return to the University of Arizona, communities surrounding campus are weary for what could come amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The university’s phased-in reopening plan and fall semester begins Monday, Aug. 24.

As of Aug. 22, UArizona reported 26 positive cases through it’s ‘Test All, Test Smart’ reentry testing program.

“We have students, we have professionals, a lot of professors, a lot of people in between,” said Head, President of the Sam Hughes Neighborhood Association.

The Sam Hughes Neighborhood has been home to Jim Head for more than 20 years. The proximity of his neighborhood and a handful of others are usually a perfect location in Tucson, but some opinions have shifted with thousands returning to campus.

“I think it’s an accident waiting to happen,” said Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik.

Kozachick represents Ward 6, which spans across and around campus. He said, this year, surrounding streets in the neighboring areas seem to be filled with a little fear.

“While the university can do their best to control somewhat the activities on campus, once they leave campus, all bets are off and it becomes the honor system,” said Kozachik. “There are examples all over the place already of kids gathering up, not masking up, in big groups and just not taking this seriously.”

The University of Arizona is one of many universities across the country reporting COVID-19 cases among students. Both Arizona Governor Doug Ducey and UArizona President Dr. Robert Robbins have shared concerns with what could happen off-campus.

“Yes, I do have concerns,” said Gov. Ducey. “College kids do like to socialize, do like to get together.”

“If we have major outbreaks, that’s what will get us. It’s human behavior,” said Dr. Robbins.

According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, 47% of the reported COVID-19 cases in Pima County are in the 20- to 44-years-old range. However, more hospitalizations happen among the older population.

“Even thought they may not end up on a ventilator, they may not end up in a hospital or a ICU. It’s their neighbors,” said Kozachik.

“We have quite a fair bit of our population fit into those vulnerable categories, so there’s justifiable concern,” said Head.

Head said the Sam Hughes Neighborhood Association is working with the university to share a safety message with simple health practices, either through signage, like door hangers, or social media groups. He said many neighbors also keep an eye out if there seem to be any problems.

“Our people say ‘hey, there was this party going on, there must’ve been 50 people there, must’ve been 20 people there,’'

On the UArizona campus, masks or face coverings are required inside buildings. Dr. Robbins said if a student refuses to follow the policy, there would be warnings of code of conduct violations reported to the Dean of Students.

Requests to the University of Arizona Police Department for information on enforcement on-campus, whether at buildings or events, was sent to the university communications department.

A spokesperson with the Tucson Police Department told KOLD News 13 to ask a City of Tucson official for information on compliance or enforcement as more students return to the neighborhoods around campus.

“If you come into this community and your ignoring those guidelines, my message to TPD is and will continue to be, go in and shut down those parties and start issuing citations immediately,” said Kozachik.

Copyright 2020 KOLD News 13. All rights reserved.