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ASU reports record-breaking 2,033 COVID-19 cases

The University is still fully operational as planned despite exceeding the previous high for reported COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began

coronavirus ASU SP.jpg

Graphic published on Sunday, March 15, 2020.

Positive COVID-19 cases more than quadrupled to 2,033 cases since last week's report of 501 cases, according to the University's update Tuesday evening.

Of the reported student COVID-19 cases, 1,706 are off-campus. There are 73 students in isolation across the Tempe, Downtown Phoenix, West and Polytechnic campuses. Faculty and staff cases rose from 91 to 254, an increase of 163 from last week's report.

The update, which is usually released on Monday evenings, was delayed "due to the start of a new semester and a much higher volume of testing than usual after we asked all students and employees to get a test before returning to campus," ASU spokesperson Chris Fiscus said in an email.

According to the update, most students who tested positive are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms. ASU spokesperson Jay Thorne said students’ symptoms were “reported from health services and as is true across the broader population.”

Information included in previous reports, such as cumulative positive cases, randomized testing numbers, and details on how the University is operating its on-campus housing and in-person classrooms, was omitted from the update.

When asked about the omissions, Thorne said the University had been "looking toward simplifying this page and cutting out some of the redundancy."

On Tuesday, the Arizona Department of Health Services reported 14,160 new COVID-19 cases and 213 deaths.

COVID-19 cases in Arizona are "in a clearly well-defined surge," Joshua LaBaer, executive director of ASU's Biodesign Institute, said in a briefing last Wednesday.

"We’re prepared to make adjustments as conditions change," LaBaer said.

Students and staff took to social media this week regarding the surge amid the return to campus, sharing concerns over the rising number of cases.

Evan Berry, an assistant professor at the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies, said in an email Monday that 10% of his class of 52 students had COVID-19.

"ASU prides itself on innovation and technological sophistication, which is why I've been surprised they did not make an advance plan to have temporary online instruction to begin the semester," Berry said in the email.

Masks will continue to be required in classrooms and other University buildings where social distancing is not possible.

The University is reinstating daily health checks, and ASU community members must complete them to assess any symptoms, ASU President Michael Crow  said in a video message on Jan. 4.

If students have not complied with the daily health check starting Jan. 17, they may lose access to ASU systems until they submit the health check, the University said in an email on Wednesday.

As part of ASU's mitigation efforts, all students were asked to complete the Return to Campus form between Jan. 1 and Jan. 7, and submit proof of their COVID-19 tests through the ASU Health Services portal, according to an email from the dean of students Jan. 3. The University expects students to isolate if they have recently tested positive for COVID-19.

Some students living in on-campus housing have reported a hold on their MyASU account for “January COVID-19 Testing.”

The hold placed on students' MyASU accounts is "informational and is a tool to remind students of the necessity of abiding by COVID guidelines," ASU spokesperson Annie DeGraw said in an email Friday. 

But Fiscus said on Tuesday the account holds are only a way to get students' attention and would not restrict access anywhere, including checking into dorms or using their meal plans at dining halls.

"The hold will drop off once ASU has verified that students completed the process. If the hold creates any difficulties or challenges, students can contact the Dean of Students Office for assistance," DeGraw said. Any COVID-19 test would be accepted, she said.

The Spring 2022 semester will be "fully operational," Crow said in the video message. ASU has since made no indication whether it will move classes online or that students need to move out of dorms.

In addition to saliva-based PCR COVID-19 testing, Crow said the University will offer high-speed antigen tests.

ASU is waiting to meet with an internal review board for clearance to begin clinical testing on the high-speed COVID-19 test, LaBaer said in the briefing.

The University is also lowering the COVID-19 isolation period from 10 days to five, following CDC guidelines. According to Crow, students can Zoom in to their classes when isolating.  

"The five-day recommendation is that you can return to work, but you should be wearing a mask for a full 10 days," LaBaer said.

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Jasmine KabiriAssignment Editor

Jasmine Kabiri is the assignment editor at The State Press, overseeing and editing stories produced by the six digital desks. She has previously worked as a reporter at The Daily Camera and Cronkite News.

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