University of Arizona starts in-person classes, hands tied when it comes to COVID mitigation measures

KOLD News 5-5:30 p.m. recurring
Published: Aug. 23, 2021 at 6:15 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) -The University of Arizona began in person classes for thousands of students on Monday, Aug. 23.

Students have been on campus for about a week, and Diana Vasquez and Israel Bernal are both sophomores now at the UA. They’re excited to be back.

They attended their first in person college courses Monday. Neither are too worried about COVID-19 spread with classmates wearing masks and other precautions.

“It was strange in a way because I was not used to being around people,” said Diana Vasquez, a sophomore at UArizona. “As somebody who’s vaccinated and still wears a mask, I’m not concerned at this moment.”

“It feels great to be here,” said Israel Bernal, another sophomore at UArizona. “You get to a point where you just live with it. It’s part of your life from now on.”

Last year, the university required students to get COVID-19 tested weekly. But under new state law, the university cannot do that this year.

Once averaging about 2,000 COVID-19 tests a day, the university is now averaging about 100-200 tests a day. It’s an abysmal fraction of last year, but officials have high hopes people will volunteer to be tested as classes kick off.

“I hope we’re back up to that level of 2,500 tests a day every day,” said Dr. Robert Robbins, president of UArizona.

Health officials and data show younger people are often asymptomatic. And without regular testing, there could be many slipping through the cracks. UArizona is using wastewater to test dorms and look for potential cases there.

Last year, UArizona also limited gatherings and parties, but is not going that for the fall 2021 semester, citing the Pima County Health Department has not limited gatherings. However, a recent health advisory from PCHD says hospitals are becoming strained once again.

“Which is why we must do everything we can to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and protect our community,” said Dr. Robbins. “This includes basic public health measures like getting vaccinated, wearing a mask and testing regularly.”

The only measure the university can really take is requiring masks—something they said they are well within the law with a blanket mandate for everyone. They can do nothing but beg and plead for students and staff to get vaccinated.

“To date, 48% of main campus students enrolled for fall 2021 have uploaded their COVID-19 vaccination documents, and I would encourage everyone who is vaccinated to please upload your vaccination card,” said Dr. Robbins.

The University estimates around 80% of students likely have at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, based on surveys they sent out.

“The best path forward to stimulate our economy is to get everyone vaccinated,” said Dr. Richard Carmona with the UArizona Reentry Taskforce.

As far as mandating vaccines, even though the FDA just gave full approval to the Pfizer shot, the university says in the political climate right now, that’s just not going to happen.

“Given where we are politically in the state, I think that’s a heavy lift to get mandated,” said Dr. Robbins. “It further enflames this political divide we have.”

Robbins did say he is a proponent of mandating vaccines for flu and COVID-19, as well as a vaccine passport.

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