TUCSON, Ariz. (CN) — With the start of classes barely six weeks away, University of Arizona administrators still don’t know what the return to campus for fall semester will look like — or if it will happen at all.
If the decision were made today about bringing 45,000 students and 15,000 employees back, it probably wouldn’t happen, said Dr. Richard Carmona, a former U.S. surgeon general who is leading a UA re-entry task force.
“We can only open if we can provide a relatively safe environment for students, faculty and staff,” said Carmona, who served as surgeon general from 2002-06. “The way we are today, with very few hospital beds available, very few ICU beds available, I think it would be unsafe.”
The state Department of Health Services reported 4,221 new cases Friday with 44 new deaths. Of the state’s 116,892 known cases, half were in people between the ages of 20 and 44. Just over 13,000 cases were in people under 20. Eight Arizonans under 20 have died from Covid-19, and 114 from age 20-44, the state reports.
Arizona’s major colleges – University of Arizona, Arizona State University, and Northern Arizona University – are approaching the fall semester in a variety of ways. All are planning on-campus housing with stringent cleaning regimens, will require masks and social distancing and will offer live streams of at least some in-person classes. All will step up testing for students.
Carmona is meeting daily with UA President Robert Robbins to take stock of the situation. They examine data from the county, state, nation and world, because 15% of UA students are international. When his work started in May, Arizona’s Covid-19 spike had not yet hit. Arizona had among the lowest transmission rates in the nation, Carmona said.
“We’ve gone from first in class to worst in class in Arizona,” he said.
The University of Arizona will rely on a “test, trace and treat” plan as students return Aug. 24, though as of July 10 some parts were still not in place. Carmona said part of the reason for that is because Covid-19 is a “moving target.”
UA looked at a spectrum of choices from returning to normal, which is definitely off the table now, to all online classes. Ultimately it will likely be a mix of in-person classes where necessary, such as labs, and Zoom classes, which could keep vulnerable students and faculty safe, Carmona said.
Nansi Naranjo’s son, Tony Yonan, 18, will attend UA while living at home in Tucson.
Naranjo is worried about him, but more worried about what his contact means to her and others.
She thinks students can return to class in relative safety, with precautions. She thinks the campus experience is important, especially for students who have been cooped up for six months. She hopes Yonan can have some semblance of normalcy outside the classrooms.
“I don’t see as great a risk in classes as there is going to be in dorms and also just the parties,” Naranjo said.
Yonan plans to major in computer science. He has not yet had orientation or a Zoom meeting with a counselor, and he doesn’t yet know if he's going to go to class or live stream classes. He is resigned to the realities of Covid-19 and is willing to accept the changes and expects to lose out on some of the college experience, including social life.
“College students are going to have to give up a lot,” he said.
If it were up to him, there would be no in-person classes for the fall semester. A final decision on the structure of classes for fall will be made in the next two to three weeks, Carmona said.