TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Universities across the country are popping up as hot spots for COVID-19, and the University of Arizona is no exception as cases rise on and around campus.
Student housing on-and-off campus is becoming a breeding ground for the virus. Tests this past weekend showed the positivity rate at 16 percent among students, and there is concern that the virus could span further than the university area.
“We’re able to say not only are we concerned about what’s on campus, but we’re concerned about what’s off campus,” said Pima County Medical Director Theresa Cullen.
County health officials are concerned because what happens on campus does not always stay on campus.
“As i say repetitively, the university is not an island. It would be great if there was a moat, but there is no moat,” said Cullen.
The high rise towers in a business district, containing 500-or-so students, each have become hot spots for the coronavirus. And it’s causing consternation among not just neighbors, but businesses who are suffering as well.
“Fourth Avenue, Main Gate, downtown merchants are struggling to get open again. People are struggling whether or not they should send their kids back to k-12 in this census tract because of the hot spot that is around the university," said Steve Kozachik, Ward 1 Tucson City Council member.
Kozachik has set up voluntary testing sites every weekend around the towers and more than 400 students have volunteered. His results and the county’s results have been less than stellar.
“Together we’re finding positivity rates that are above 50 percent in some of the buildings. That’s a huge concern.”
Those students take their business throughout the community, contributing to spread. And the danger is it could force changes for everyone if its not slowed down.
“Actually the public health model we’ve taken all along is that none of us lives in a bubble and we’re all interacting with each other,” said Cullen.
County health officials have already quarantined greek life and things show a bit of improvement, but the question remains- what’s the cost to the university if the students don’t cooperate.
“They’re looking at a potential 250 million dollar deficit, and north of that, if they shut down again so obviously finances are a serious consideration,” said Kozachick.
And not just for the university, but for the community as well.