UArizona COVID-19 Testing up 34% in Pre-Holiday Blitz


TUCSON, Ariz. — The University of Arizona’s pre-holiday COVID-19 testing blitz, which began on Nov. 9 and continues through Nov. 25, is succeeding in its goal to test large numbers of students before they head home for the holidays.


The university administered 7,541 tests from Nov. 9-13, UArizona President Robert C. Robbins, MD, said today during his weekly virtual briefing on the university’s reentry progress.

Students self-administer a COVID-19 nasal swab antigen test at the NorthREC testing site at the beginning of the fall semester. (Photo: University of Arizona, Chris Richards)That’s 1,927 more tests than the previous week, for an increase of 34%. Of those 7,541 tests, 4,335 were given to students living off campus, 2,302 were given to on-campus students and 904 were given to employees. There were 65 positive results. Testing numbers are updated regularly on the university’s COVID-19 dashboard.

Students are encouraged to participate in the testing blitz before traveling for Thanksgiving, in order to help curb travel-related spread of the virus. Main campus students also were required to complete a survey detailing their travel plans.

After the Nov. 25-26 Thanksgiving break, all university classes will transition to being fully online. Students who travel out of Tucson for the holiday are encouraged not to return to campus and to finish the semester remotely.

Up until Thanksgiving, the university will remain in stage two of its reentry plan, allowing classes of up to 50 students to meet on campus. The university plans to start the spring semester in stage two if public health conditions allow.

COVID-19 testing will be mandatory for all students who plan to live on campus and for those who plan to attend in-person classes in the spring.

“Like most public universities nationwide, we cannot legally mandate testing for other students as a prerequisite for enrollment, such as those who live off campus and are completing classes totally remotely,” Dr. Robbins said.

However, he added, “The more testing we do, the better.”

University students and employees can sign up for testing on the university’s COVID-19 website.

As Cases Rise Nationally, Cooperation is Key

COVID-19 cases are on the rise in Arizona as they are nationwide, said Reentry Task Force Director Richard Carmona, MD, MPH, who joined Dr. Robbins, in the virtual briefing.

That makes it all the more important for members of the university community and others to follow public health guidelines, especially as older “snowbirds” – who descend on Tucson for the warm winter – may require hospital resources for reasons unrelated to COVID-19, said Dr. Carmona, 17th. U.S. surgeon general and a distinguished professor in the UArizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health.

In Pima County, the R naught, or Rt number – which refers to the average number of people who become infected by a single person with the virus – is now 1.68. In the 85719 ZIP code, which includes the university, the number is 1.33. That’s an improvement over the 2.22 number reported for 85719 the previous week but still not as low as desired, Dr. Carmona said.

Meanwhile, the number of large gatherings reported to the Campus Area Response Team – a partnership between the university and Tucson Police Department – was up by seven this week. Fourteen gatherings were reported, with four of those gatherings involving between 50 and 99 people.

Dr. Carmona stressed the importance of avoiding large groups, wearing masks and remembering that just because you don’t have symptoms doesn’t mean you don’t have the virus.

“We cannot eliminate risk,” he said, “but we can certainly reduce risk by the practices we chose to use.”

Dr. Robbins noted that the university is developing a “freezer farm” of minus 80 degree Celsius freezers to store doses of the COVID-19 vaccine when they become available. He called vaccine progress a “triumph of science.”

“This is the fastest any vaccine will have ever been developed in the history of humankind,” he said. “I think we should all feel confident that the scientific community is working hard to try to protect all of us and get the economy back open.”

Click here to view video from the Nov. 2, 2020, Campus Reentry Briefing on YouTube.

The UArizona Health Sciences COVID-19 Research webpage can be found here.

For the latest on the University of Arizona response to the novel coronavirus, visit the university’s COVID-19 webpage.

For UANews coverage of COVID-19, visit

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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: (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: (Follow us: Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | LinkedIn | Instagram).