COVID-19, flu and monkeypox all await students as they return to University of Arizona

KOLD News 6-6:30 p.m. recurring
Published: Aug. 15, 2022 at 7:02 PM MST|Updated: Aug. 16, 2022 at 6:36 AM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - As students head back to the University of Arizona for the 2022 fall semester, things will be different.

Things will be more normal.

No mask requirements. No vaccine requirements. No social distancing requirements.

But that doesn’t mean concerns over three viruses that have coalesced at the beginning of the school year will not be present.

COVID. Flu. Monkeypox.

“The pandemic is not over,” said Dr. Robert Robbins, the university president. “I want to emphasize that, not even close to being over.”

The university will be operating under the new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines which have recently been eased as cases, deaths and hospitalizations have dropped nationwide.

Wearing a mask is now an individual decision based on a student’s risk factors or personal preference but Robbins has a warning.

“Be respectful of each other’s personal choice about mask uses,” he told the students. “So please, please be understanding if someone wears a mask.”

But now monkeypox has entered the picture. Although not highly transmissible, it is a concern.

“I’m definitely concerned because it is so new it’s getting a lot of headlines and I thought it was important for us to have a conversation about it here,” he said. “But I am much more concerned about COVID at this point because people are still dying from it.”

Monkeypox, which manifests itself with sores over the body, is not considered a fatal virus.

But it can be spread by touching surfaces that are contaminated, airborne contaminates and person-to-person contact.

“The purpose today was to cautiously choose our words because we want to inform and not inflame,” said Dr. Richard Carmona, a former US Surgeon General and advisor to the university. “We felt it was an obligation to alert the campus community and the community at large.”

Whether it be monkeypox or COVID, Robbins’ advice is nearly the same.

“Simple, wash your hands, cover your face if you have any concerns about being in proximity where there may be an infection and get vaccinated,” he said.

The message from the Pima County Board of Supervisors which met in an unusual Monday meeting, was the same.

“When you’re still having thousands of cases on a weekly basis, it’s hard to say it’s over,” said Dr. Francisco Garcia, the Chief Medical Officer for Pima County.

Still, his message was the same. That guidance from the CDC has been relaxed and for good reason.

“We have therapeutics, we have vaccines, we have readily available testing and we have a whole series of mitigation measures,” he told the board. “We have a whole series of mitigation measures that people have incorporated in their physical plant like increased ventilation.”

He also updated the board on the monkeypox outbreak saying the risk of infection for most people is very low.

“So monkeypox has sucked up a lot of oxygen right now in the public dialogue but one of the pieces we think is important to convey is that is quite a different situation from the situation that we found with COVID.”

Whereas COVID is easily transmissible monkeypox is not.

“In this case, the folks who have the greatest risk are men who are having sex with men,” he said.

There are 14 known cases of monkeypox in Pima County.

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