The University of Arizona will offer the majority of its classes in an online format when the spring semester begins on Jan. 13, just as it did at the start of the fall semester, President Robert C. Robbins said Tuesday in his weekly virtual briefing on the campus reentry process.
As COVID-19 infection rates surge in Arizona and nationwide, the university will begin the semester in stage one of its campus reentry plan, just like it did at the start of the fall semester. In stage one, only essential courses, such as certain research labs and performing arts courses, meet in person. A little over 3,900 students are enrolled in essential courses. The university's total enrollment is around 46,000.
The university will continue to monitor public health metrics and will expand in-person instruction as conditions allow, Robbins said.
University officials also are asking that students arriving from outside Pima County self-quarantine for seven days even if they have tested negative; they should leave home only for essential activities. Campus employees are encouraged to work from home if possible.
"Getting through this semester, even with the vaccine rolling out, we'll have to follow the same playbook we did in the fall semester for the spring semester," Robbins said. "And then hopefully for next fall semester, we'll be back to more like normal."
Testing efforts will ramp up on campus this semester, with required weekly testing for all students living in dorms or attending classes in person. Students visiting campus to access other services are also required to have taken a university diagnostic test in the previous week.
A testing blitz for students will start Jan. 6, with dorm residents being tested with a nasal swab antigen test upon move in, which begins on Jan. 8 for most. Isolation housing will be provided to any dorm resident who tests positive.
As part of its Test, Trace, Treat protocol, the university has begun offering a new, highly accurate saline gargle PCR test that will be used for the weekly testing. The test involves swishing, gargling and spitting a saline solution into a tube, and the university will have capacity to administer 3,000 tests a day.
If testing rates on campus fall below what public health advisers recommend, compliance may be managed through access to the campus-based WiFi network, Robbins said.
Students and employees also are required to sign up and complete daily wellness checks through Wildcat WellCheck, a wellness screening service that asks participants to answer a series of questions via text or email each day.
Furlough Program Comes to an End
The university's furlough and furlough-based salary programs, implemented in the fall in response to the financial challenges posed by the pandemic, have come to an end, Robbins said.
Gov. Doug Ducey announced in December that he would designate $115 million in CARES Act funding to cover coronavirus-related expenditures at the state's three universities, with $46 million going to UArizona.
That money, combined with funding from new federal COVID relief legislation, allowed the university to end the furlough program earlier than its expected February end date, Robbins said.
"This was a fantastic way to end 2020 as we look at it in the rearview mirror, and I'm optimistic that 2021 will bring more good news for the university and our community and indeed our world," Robbins said. "We will continue to work closely with (Pima County Public Health Director) Dr. (Theresa) Cullen and Pima County Health. Vaccinations have begun and there is an end in sight. … But it does not mean we can abandon our Test, Trace, Treat protocols, we'll need to continue those throughout the semester and maybe into the fall; we'll see."
Cases on the Rise in Arizona, Nationally
Dr. Richard Carmona, 17th U.S. surgeon general and director of the university's Campus Reentry Task Force, joined Robbins for the weekly briefing and offered an overview of COVID-19 numbers locally and nationally.
Data shows that Arizona saw a 39% increase in COVID-19 cases in a two-week period, and the state's Rt number, which refers to the average number of people infected by a single COVID-positive person, is 1.12. In Pima County, that number is 0.9, and in the 85719 ZIP code, which includes the university, it's 0.73.
However, Carmona warned that due to a backlog of information, Rt numbers are likely actually much higher.
"We know that this number is artificially low, because transmissibility is high, based on the cases every day that we see in the community and our (hospital) beds filling up," he said.
Carmona, a Distinguished Professor in the university's Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, added that the positivity rate for COVID-19 tests conducted on the UArizona campus in the past 10 days is 4%.
"We look to stay below five, but four, to me, is still not good enough; three is not good enough. We've got to flatten that curve," he said.
He and Robbins both stressed the importance of continue to follow basic public health guidance, including physical distancing, mask wearing and frequent handwashing.
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A version of this story originally appeared on the UANews website.
About the University of Arizona Health Sciences
The University of Arizona Health Sciences is the statewide leader in biomedical research and health professions training. UArizona Health Sciences includes the Colleges of Medicine (Tucson and Phoenix), Nursing, Pharmacy, and the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, with main campus locations in Tucson and the Phoenix Biomedical Campus in downtown Phoenix. From these vantage points, Health Sciences reaches across the state of Arizona, the greater Southwest and around the world to provide next-generation education, research and outreach. A major economic engine, Health Sciences employs nearly 5,000 people, has approximately 4,000 students and 900 faculty members, and garners $200 million in research grants and contracts annually. For more information: uahs.arizona.edu (Follow us: Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | LinkedIn | Instagram).
About the University of Arizona
The University of Arizona, a land-grant university with two independently accredited medical schools, is one of the nation's top public universities, according to U.S. News & World Report. Established in 1885, the university is widely recognized as a student-centric university and has been designated as a Hispanic Serving Institution by the U.S. Department of Education. The university ranked in the top 20 in 2018 in research expenditures among all public universities, according to the National Science Foundation, and is a leading Research 1 institution with $687 million in annual research expenditures. The university advances the frontiers of interdisciplinary scholarship and entrepreneurial partnerships as a member of the Association of American Universities, the 65 leading public and private research universities in the U.S. It benefits the state with an estimated economic impact of $4.1 billion annually. For more information: arizona.edu (Follow us: Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | LinkedIn | Instagram).