Dashboard Update: Cases decline, but sentinel testing remains low

Kelby Hutchison | @thetallcwrepor1, Contributing Writer

More than a week after Labor Day weekend, the UA System COVID-19 Dashboard reported a steep decline in cases. But while officials boast low numbers, sentinel testing is slow-going.

In a Sept. 16 press conference, Richard Friend, dean of the UA College of Community Health Sciences, said that despite earlier concerns, UA has “not seen a measurable uptick in positive cases as a result of Labor Day weekend.” 

Since the first day of classes on Aug. 19, UA has reported 2354 positive test results for students and faculty. This week, UA reported a record low of 119 student positives and 17 faculty positives. Two of those cases came from sentinel testing.

Friend said Wednesday that sentinel testing was “well underway” and that the early data looked encouraging. The process involves the “random sampling of asymptomatic students, faculty and staff to understand the underlying prevalence of infection on campus” by testing around 3% of the campus population each week. 

To reach this goal, the University would have to test just over 1,053 students and faculty each week, based on reentry numbers. So far, only 245 students and faculty have been tested.

Participation in sentinel testing is mandatory for on-campus students, members of a student organization holding meetings with more than 10 people, those participating in club sports or are participating in clinical activities. 

Sentinel testing on Sept.16 was rescheduled due to the possibility of severe weather from Hurricane Sally. Friend said he does not believe that this cancelation will have a significant impact on this week’s data. 

The University receives sentinel testing data 24 hours after testing according to Friend. 

The day before the press conference, The Daily from The New York Times released an episode detailing the experience of a UA student who was quarantined in on-campus isolation facilities. Complaints included a lack of toilet paper, no nurses, and an essentially empty apartment devoid of some necessities.

The New York Times published their story on Sept. 9. That same day UA President Bell sent out a letter to students, staff, and parents explaining new protocols for those going into quarantine. 

Friend said that the University has significantly enhanced services for students in quarantine and isolation, and the COVID-19 hotline is providing expedited services. According to the dashboard, isolation occupancy has dropped to 3.88% – a sharp dip from last week’s 15%. 

Deborah Birx, the coronavirus response coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force, held a press conference on campus Sept. 11. She said that the University should expect another wave of positive cases. 

Friend said that the University is “fully prepared for that scenario.” 

“With the continued commitment of our students we will be well positioned to complete the semester on campus,” he said.