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University of Arizona plans to test wastewater of off-campus housing

Published: Oct. 12, 2020 at 10:51 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) -The University of Arizona is expanding its wastewater testing to include off-campus student housing.

Monday night, U of A leaders met with several management companies over Zoom.

However, with Halloween and Thanksgiving fast approaching, one city leader is looking for firmer action.

The University’s COVID-19 dashboard shows a drop in the number of students getting tested since mid-September.

“What you don’t know is what you don’t know,” said Steve Kozachik, a Tucson City Council Member. “And so, to the extent that students are saying, ‘I am not going to test’ means that the data is flawed.”

Kozachik calls the data a “self-selected sample”.

Meanwhile, University officials say they are heading in the right direction.

At a 0.6% [positivity rate], that’s really good,” said Dr. Richard Carmona, the Director of the University’s Reentry Task Force. “We are looking to stay below 5%. Overall we are doing well, but we need to do better.”

The University’s strategy includes a partnership with Greek Life housing and high-rise apartment complexes where thousands of students reside.

“What we are trying to do is find the asymptomatic, unsuspecting vector who is spreading this all over and they don’t even know that they are,” said University President, Dr. Robert Robbins.

The wastewater testing program has been successful in helping the U of A find and isolate students with COVID-19.

“For on-campus facilities where the built environment facilitates being able to identify a particular building that may work,” said Kozachik. “Off campus, it’s much more complicated than that.”

“The challenge is the built environment that we live in now doesn’t lend itself easily to identify specific cases,” said Carmona. “So, we can test the water and find out it comes from a certain building that may have 300, or 500 or 1,000 people.”

“They can’t identify where the infection is,” said Kozachik. “That’s the reason the individual testing is the key to this.”

Kozachik is calling on the University of Arizona to use its leverage.

“[They need to] say, ‘If you’re going to participate in classes, we want you to take a test. You will take a test. In addition to that, before you leave for Thanksgiving, you’re going to take another test and before you come back from the holidays, you’re going to take another one’,” he said.

While testing is not mandatory, the U of A strongly encourages it. Plans are underway to “rapidly increase testing leading up to Thanksgiving”. Robbins also suggests students who return home for the fall break finish the semester remotely.

Pima County Health Director Dr. Theresa Cullen says if a wastewater test comes back positive for an off-campus complex, all residents in the building will be asked to take a COVID-19 test.

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