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University of Arizona's initial wave of students to test campus health protocol
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University of Arizona's initial wave of students to test campus health protocol

The UA has reported 37 confirmed virus cases among the 9,356 tests of its community between July 31 and Aug. 25.

The University of Arizona administration says about 5,000 students will attend classes in-person when school begins on Aug. 24 to help ensure all campus health initiatives are working efficiently.

President Robert C. Robbins shared more details about the university’s three-stage approach to ramp up operations in the first few weeks of classes during a new conference Thursday.

“We discussed this idea of going slowly to move the campus forward. I’ve chosen to go faster because I think we’ve hit a lot of the things that the experts told us we needed to do,” Robbins said about implemented health safeguards.

During Week 1, 5,000-plus students will attend a select number of in-person classes such as performing arts courses, medical courses and research laboratories. All other classes will start online.

The following week, operations will progress to smaller, in-person classes and in-person flex classes — a mix of online and in-person instruction — bringing about 14,000 students to UA classrooms, according to Robbins.

By Sept. 8, the administration hopes to progress to more in-person and flex classes.

“We expect this will cover about 50% of delivered classes on campus and that will then bring between 25,000 and 30,000 people to campus in any peak time during the week, which is less than half the number on campus during a regular semester,” Robbins said.

Opening the campus is predicated on how well the UA’s health system’s “Test, Trace, Treat” initiative works as cases are found on campus starting with the initial wave of students who are set to move into dormitories.

The initiative is set up to test students for the virus and antibodies, conduct proper contact tracing and appropriately care and monitor those in isolation.

The UA has set up 6,600 beds this semester with 5,000 students set to arrive next month. There are 8,000 spaces available during a normal regular semester.

“For all of those people who are excited about coming to the University of Arizona, we thank you for choosing the UA, but there are going to be some disappointed people when they get a text that says, ‘you have tested positive’ because they’re asymptomatic,” Robbins said. “They’re feeling great and they’re so excited to get into their assigned dorm room (but) they’re going to be diverted for a 10-day trip to isolation.”

Students who test positive will be moved to one of the 300 isolation beds.

During the isolation period, Robbins said “It allows our contract tracing system to get to work and to make sure that all of these things that we’ve rolled out around ‘Test, Trace and Treat’ that that system works,” Robbins said.

With a three-stage approach it gives students isolated in the dorms to test negative for COVID-19 and join the campus population in order to clear isolation beds for other positive cases. Robbins said the university is following recommendations to have at least 75% isolation bed capacity.

So far, Robbins said, there has been no coronavirus spread through increased athletic activities such as football, as well as the more than 500 out of 800 research labs operating around campus.

However, he also repeated a point made months ago about those on campus following health guidelines.

“We have a plan and we have confidence that our students, faculty and staff will carry it out. But if we see noncompliance or if the public-health conditions require, we will shut this down (and return to fully online instruction),” Robbins said.

Contact Star reporter Shaq Davis at 573-4218 or sdavis@tucson.com

On Twitter: @ShaqDavis1

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