University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins confirmed today that the fall semester will begin as scheduled one month from tomorrow, on Aug. 24, with a mix of in-person and remote instruction. More than half of all classes will include an in-person component.
"I know many of you are awaiting the answer to the question: Will the University of Arizona be open for in-person classes in the fall of 2020? The answer is yes," Robbins said during a virtual briefing on the campus reentry plan.
However, campus will look different than it did before, with increased cleaning and sanitation, reduced class sizes, mandated face coverings and other safety measures and public health messaging, he said.
In addition, diagnostic and antibody testing will be available for students and employees, Robbins said.
Robbins gave the update alongside 17th U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Richard Carmona, a professor on the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health and director of the Campus Reentry Task Force. The task force has been meeting throughout the summer and advising university leadership on how to proceed with a return to campus in the fall.
"There are no risk-free options in return to our campus. Our plan is informed by international and national experts, including Dr. Carmona, who has for years had expertise in virology managing public health emergencies and other types of crises," Robbins said. "Our faculty and staff remain our greatest asset, in addition to our students, and I am confident that our broad capabilities, contributions and resilience will enable us to weather this period and emerge even stronger than we are today."
University Will Offer Mix of Online, In-Person Classes
The university will offer four learning modalities in the fall, as announced during last week's reentry briefing on July 16.
"Our aim with this work has been to ensure that we are able to continue to serve our students and the state when the academic year begins, and a key consideration is (that) our enrollment, to date, indicates that Wildcats and their parents believe in the value of returning to campus to pursue their education," Robbins said.
The four classroom formats are:
Students and faculty will attend classes in person, with enhanced health protections in place, including physical distancing and mandated face coverings.
• Flex in-person
These courses will include a mix of in-person and online elements, as determined by the instructor.
• Live online
In this remote learning option, students and instructors are online simultaneously.
Students complete these courses independently through the university's D2L online learning system.
Faculty members worked with their department heads, chairs or directors to decide which courses would have an in-person component. Students can log into the university's online student portal, UAccess Student, to see which formats their courses will have.
Robbins urged those with known medical conditions to consider online instruction rather than return to campus.
"We know that others are unable to return to campus and we have planned for excellent alternatives that will be well-supported this coming academic year," he said. "Each of us needs to make the best decision for ourselves and for those around us."
Testing for Students and Employees
Robbins also discussed diagnostic and antibody testing plans on campus.
All students who will be living on campus will receive an antigen test at McKale Memorial Center prior to moving into their dorms. If a student tests positive, he or she will be required to isolate for a 10-day period at a designated isolation facility or space, Robbins said.
Testing also will be available for faculty and staff, as well as students who live off campus, as part of the university's broader Test, Trace and Treat strategy, which includes virus testing, antibody testing, traditional contact tracing, an exposure notification app and on-campus medical care, among other components. A schedule of dates and times for diagnostic and antibody testing will be announced, Robbins said.
The university will offer three types of testing:
• Antigen testing can be quickly administered and results can be delivered in one to two hours. This will be used as a tool to test as many people as possible when students, faculty and staff return to campus.
• Polymerase Chain Reaction, or PCR, testing is the gold standard for diagnosing the presence of the virus. Results take 24 to 48 hours. The university will generally use this test for individuals showing symptoms of the virus.
• Antibody testing indicates whether a person has had an immune response to the virus, due to a previous infection. A UArizona-developed test has demonstrated 99.4% specificity for COVID-19, which means the chance of a false positive is 1 in 3.5 million. The university recently expanded its statewide antibody testing effort and announced a $7.7 million yearlong study funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to identify patterns of COVID-19 immunity over time in previously and newly infected individuals.
Additional Measures on Campus
Face coverings will continue to be required in all UArizona buildings and outside on campus, except in areas where continuous physical distancing of at least 6 feet is possible. The face covering mandate went into effect on campus on June 18.
"The best medicine we've got right now is a mask. It's easy," Robbins said.
In addition, Arizona Student Unions has adapted meal and dining services with its Arizona Dining SMART plan, which promotes social distancing, increased sanitation, and wellness checks and other requirements for food service employees.
Adjustments Will be Made as Necessary
Robbins said university leaders will continue to monitor public health conditions on and off campus and make adjustments to the reentry plan as necessary.
Details of the are available on the university's COVID-19 website, and the latest updates will continue to be posted there.
"I am very proud of our entire reentry team as well, as well as the students, faculty and staff committed to a successful fall semester at the University of Arizona," Robbins said. "We look forward to starting classes on Aug. 24 and welcoming you, whether in person or online. Please make the best decision for you and your health. We support you with whichever decision you make."