TUCSON, Ariz. - The University of Arizona and the Pima County Health Department are planning to use wastewater testing to hunt for COVID infections in off-campus apartments that house thousands of university students, but the question is what they’ll do with what the tests show.
High rise student apartments just off the University campus concentrate thousands of students in ways health officials fear could become concentrated COVID hotspots.
Students in on-campus dorms are required to get COVID tests or they can’t live on campus. But there’s no rule to compel testing for students off-campus.
UArizona is proud of its work to identify infections by testing wastewater. It’s working on plans to test wastewater from the big apartments, but at best, wastewater tests can only figure out someone who used the toilet in a building is positive for COVID. Finding out the specific people infected requires testing everyone in the place.
University President Doctor Robert Robbins does not see UArizona requiring that.
County Health Director Doctor Theresa Cullen talks about it as an opportunity to encourage off-campus students to get tested.
She says, “We have historically used a cut off of 10% in a congregate building that makes us concerned enough that we want to at have at least voluntary quarantine, voluntary shelter in place in that building. As you are all aware the county does have the ability to enforce mandatory quarantine we have not had to do that yet.
The off campus apartments are in Councilman Steve Kozachik’s Ward. He says students are avoiding tests so they won’t end up in quarantine and says only the University of Arizona has the leverage to tell students to step up and be tested or you can’t be a UArizona student.
Kozachik says, “it doesn't matter if you live on campus or off campus as a condition of matriculating here, you're going to take a test, and they need to repeat that before these kids get on these planes and fly home for Thanksgiving and require it again when they come back to campus.”
Kozachik says the Tucson City Council is preparing to vote on a resolution calling for testing all UArizona students, but City Council can only make that a request, not a requirement.
The University is trying to keep students from catching and spreading COVID at Halloween, then bringing it home to their families at Thanksgiving.
University President Doctor Robert Robbins says UArizona is seeing a decline in student parties that could spread the virus; but gatherings are still happening and the University is worried Halloween will pump up the parties and raise the risk.
On October 23rd the University will ask students living on campus to fill out a holiday travel survey.
Doctor Robbins says, “All Main Campus students are required to fill this out, which will help assess options for traveling safely and inform the university, about each student's decision that we will can go to testing Blitz from November 9 to November 15 this timing was chosen so that anyone with a positive test can complete a 10 day isolation period following this positive test before they leave campus.”