The University of Arizona will allow students to attend in-person classes of 30 students or fewer this week, UA President Robert C. Robbins said in a news conference Monday, Oct. 12.
The change will bring 1,500 more students to campus every week, and classes will continue “if and only if” public health data gauging the spread of coronavirus in the county permits, Robbins said.
The university first predicted 2,500 students would return to class as it moves into Phase 2 of its reopening plan, but fewer students wanted to return than expected.
“Students and their instructors had the opportunity to evaluate what they wanted, and in the spirit of shared governance, make collective decisions about how to proceed at this point,” Robbins said. “There are many, many students who want that in-person interaction . . . but obviously, there are people who don’t want it.”
From Oct. 1-10, UA found 42 positive coronavirus cases after administering 6,963 tests for a positivity rate of 0.6%, down from 2.3% in the previous 10-day period.
“What we’ve been able to show over the last two, four weeks . . . is an ability of how we respond,” Pima County Health Department Director Dr. Theresa Cullen said at the press conference. “We’ve developed this deep collaboration, transparency, sharing of data, sharing resources and a recognition that working together is required for us to combat this pandemic.”
During the past week, the university’s CART team, a collaboration with the UA and Tucson police departments that looks for incidents of noncompliance to COVID-19 precautions, issued five university-related red tags, seven citations and eight code-of-conduct referrals.
Robbins said nine parties CART responded to had more than 10 people, while three parties had about 50.
“It’s important that more and more, we see less and less of these large gatherings, which really are events that you might even term super spreader events when they become too large,” said Richard Carmona, UA Reentry Task Force Director.
Robbins said the university has no recorded cases of COVID-19 transmission within a classroom or laboratory setting.
With six weeks left in UA’s fall semester, the administration is looking ahead to potential coronavirus-spreading events. Halloween falls on a Saturday this year, and many students have traveling plans during fall break.
“We’re working hard to prevent an uptick in positive cases, in part because it could impact positive rates as students are preparing to travel home for the fall break,” Robbins said.
Robbins outlined steps the university is asking students to take to prevent the spread of coronavirus, which include requiring all main campus students to complete a survey with their fall break traveling plans.
UA will also conduct a “testing blitz” from Nov. 9-15, and those who test positive will be required to quarantine for 10 days. Students are also “strongly encouraged” to complete the semester remotely if they travel.
Robbins said a “small number” will be allowed to travel and return to campus in-person, and students will be able to stay on campus during the fall break to access the university’s WiFi.
“We are all happy that all the processes we’ve put in place have resulted in these changes,” Carmona said. “But we still aren’t happy enough to not be very aggressive and continue these processes to keep those numbers down.”