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Pima County, UA tells students to shelter in place as campus virus outbreaks rise

Pima County, UA tells students to shelter in place as campus virus outbreaks rise

University of Arizona

Students at the UA will be reminded of the rules by private security workers like those seen at UA football or basketball games. They will be patrolling in three zones around campus.

Pima County, in collaboration with the University of Arizona, will recommend a 14-day shelter in place for all students living on or near campus to help reduce community spread of coronavirus.

The recommendation comes as COVID-19 cases continue to rise among UA students, who returned for the start of the semester last month. As of Friday, the university has administered nearly 25,000 tests and has recorded 1,148 positive cases among students, faculty and staff.

“This is a last ditch effort to ask you to follow the rules before we have to make some really drastic changes to how we're dealing with this blatant disregard for public health measures,” said UA President Robert C. Robbins during a press conference Monday.

Since classes resumed last month, significant outbreaks of the virus have been identified at several off-campus student housing sites, including nearby high-rises, Greek houses and other student apartments.

Of the 424 tests that were administered to students who live at high-rises located near North Euclid Avenue and East Speedway, 28% were positive. The Hub Tucson has the largest outbreak so far, with 45 positives. This is based on testing that was facilitated by the City of Tucson’s Ward 6 office and Pima County over the last couple of weeks. 

“We have worked closely with the county, the city and the state to look at the numbers and what we have seen is accelerated transmission,” said Pima County Public Health Director Dr. Theresa Cullen. “What that means is that we have parts of a geographic area around the university that are very concerning to us.”

UA and Pima County officials said they are still defining the scope of the shelter-in-place recommendation and that more details will be released later today. It will be limited to students who are living in a certain geographic area around the university. Students will be allowed to leave their dorms, houses or apartments for essential business only, but it is unclear how exactly this will be enforced. 

According to Robbins, while the majority of UA students, faculty and staff are following the rules, there is a “subset of individuals, mostly students,” who are not taking the pandemic guidelines seriously.

“I understand that many individuals test positive and never have any symptoms, but this is a very highly transmissible virus. And for older people and those individuals who have pre existing comorbidities, this can be absolutely deadly,” he said. “This is part of being a good member of society - to take into account the health of others, not just your individual health, and not just your individual desire to go out and have a good time and party.”

Through a task force collaboration with the UA Tucson Police Department, Tucson Police Department and local neighborhood associations, Robbins said they have shut down several off-campus gatherings and parties over the last several weeks. A small number of students have also  been suspended or expelled for refusing to comply with guidelines, even after being issued warnings.

UA and local government officials are hoping the recommended quarantine will help correct the behavior and encourage students to protect themselves and others. 

“We don't make decisions about interventions lightly. We make them based on metrics and data that is available to us. And as you have heard from the Pima County Health Department repeatedly in the last four months, data is our lifeblood," Cullen said. "And we rely on data that is available to us to help guide the best decisions that we can make to protect you, the students, the faculty, the staff as well as the community at large.”

This video offers some pros and cons of online education, as many schools and universities have suspended in-person classes due to the spread of the coronavirus.

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