University of Arizona plans pre-holiday testing blitz, transition to online-only instruction after Thanksgiving

School working on plans to bring students back to campus in the spring
University of Arizona President Robert Robbins
University of Arizona President Robert Robbins(University of Arizona)
Updated: Nov. 2, 2020 at 1:47 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The University of Arizona announced that because of increasing coronavirus cases nationwide and a spike in large gatherings around campus students will be given three online-only options for instruction after Thanksgiving.

University President Robert Robbins and Campus Reentry Task Force Director Dr. Richard Carmona made the announcement during the weekly campus reentry briefing on Monday, Nov. 1.

Seven gatherings of more than 100 people were reported the week of Oct. 26 to the Campus Area Response Team, a collaboration between the university and the Tucson Police Department. Only one such gathering was reported the week of Oct. 19.

“As I have said, this could create a problem for holiday travel plans if it leads to an increase in cases,” Robbins said.

The university is currently allowing courses of up to 50 students to meet on campus as it continues in stage two of its reentry plan, where it plans to stay until Nov. 26 if public health conditions allow for it. After Thanksgiving, all courses will transition to being fully online for the remainder of the semester.

The university will require all main campus students to complete a travel survey before Thanksgiving. In addition to detailing their plans, students will be asked to choose from three options:

  • Travel for Thanksgiving break and complete the semester outside the Tucson area.
  • Travel for Thanksgiving break and return to student residences to complete the semester online.
  • Do not travel during the Thanksgiving break and complete the semester from your student residence.

The university also will conduct a COVID-19 testing blitz from Nov. 9-15 with the goal of reducing travel-related spread of the virus. Additional travel information is available on the university’s COVID-19 website.

“This (testing blitz) will give us a clearer picture of the level of viral spread in the student population and the broader campus community,” Robbins said.

Between Oct. 23 and Nov. 1, the university saw 79 positives out of 7,122 tests, for a positivity rate of 1.1%. Campus testing numbers are regularly updated on the university’s COVID-19 dashboard.

The university is working on plans to bring students back to campus in the spring, Robbins said.

“Preparations are now critical for us to have the option of continuing in-person instruction in the spring semester,” he said. “We can only do so if public health conditions permit us to.”

Robbins emphasized that while there has been progress on a vaccine, it is not guaranteed to bring life back to “pre-COVID normal,” and even if a vaccine passes clinical trials, it will take time to manufacture sufficient quantities.

“In the meantime, we know how to mitigate the spread of this virus,” he said. “We have done so in the classroom, in our research lab and office spaces of the campus so far this semester, and I know we can do the same both on and off campus if everyone follows the rules.”

That includes wearing a face covering, physical distancing and frequently cleaning surfaces and washing hands, he said.

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