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UA sticks to mostly virtual classes as COVID-19 outbreak continues

University of Arizona courses will remain mainly online as the coronvirus outbreak continues to hit the school — including an exposure for college President Robert Robbins.

UA courses will continue to be virtual except for "essential" labs and other in-person classes until at least October 2, Robbins said Monday.

Arizona State University, meanwhile, has announced that in-person learning will end by Thanksgiving, with the Tempe school going entirely online due to the pervasive outbreak of COVID-19 among students.

Here, about 5,000 UA students are attending essential courses, such as science labs and performing arts classes.

"This is out of an abundance of caution. We obviously, over the last couple of weeks, saw a great spike in cases," Robbins said Monday, but he added that cases have gone down in the last few days.

On Friday, 79 of the 1,299 tests conducted returned positive results, a rate of 6.1% – a drop from the 8.8% positivity rate a week earlier. Those tests included students living on and off campus, as well as university employees.

One of the employees who has needed testing is Robbins himself. He told reporters Monday that he was exposed the previous weekend while having dinner with a couple of UA sorority members, and had two negative antigen tests. He was awaiting the results of a PCR test, he said, and had been isolating the previous week.

Last week, the UA supported a Pima County move to declare a limited, two-week voluntary "shelter in place" quarantine of students living around campus. Students have been told to remain at home as much as possible, only leaving for required classes and to obtain food and medical care.

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Despite that recommendation, which was joined by the city of Tucson later in the week, "this past weekend... a large party of 300 people" was dispersed, Robbins told reporters Monday morning.

Despite a desire by many to socialize, "this is not the time to do that," he said.

There have been more than 214,000 identified coronavirus infections in Arizona, with 5,478 people dying from the disease in the state. Two new deaths were reported Monday by health officials, with 223 new cases. In Pima County, there have been more than 24,000 cases, with 615 deaths. In the county, 37 new infections were reported Monday morning.

If the voluntary measures are not effective, county officials have said they are prepared to declare a mandatory quarantine in the UA area. The Health Department could ask a judge to legally quarantine buildings such as fraternity and sorority houses and high-rise apartment buildings near campus where many students live.

About 100 students were able to leave isolation housing over the weekend, he said, leaving 324 UA students who are isolated because of exposure or a positive test for a COVID-19 infection.

The university's Community Area Response Team, a partnership between university and Tucson police departments, also responded to 17 properties on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. The team issued 10 red tags, 19 citations and initiated 25 code of conduct violations with the Dean of Students Office.

"We know where the hot spot is in Tucson right now – it's the UA area. Nobody should act surprised," Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik said. "Everyone should help us contain and reverse this by reporting violations."

"This week it's not possible to escape the reality that college reopening is causing the spike in coronavirus in this city," Kozachik wrote Monday. "Now over 60% of the cases fall in the 'under 44' year old age group, and 17% are under 20 years old."

Kozachik, who has urged stronger restrictions be imposed and who's worked to coordinate more testing of students who live off-campus, particularly in the large neighboring complexes, said that the owners of the student housing towers have not been entirely cooperative.

"The ownership of Hub and oLiv said in one of our calls that if I couldn't promise them that they wouldn't be highlighted on the news, they didn't think they could move ahead with working with me on testing. Their brand is evidently more important to corporate than the health of the Tucson community," the Democratic city councilman wrote Monday.

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"We've gone from begging, encouraging, now moving into the action phase of where your choices will have consequences," Robbins said, "and there will be individuals who will be asked to leave the university."

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Robbins at a virtual press conference Monday morning.