/ Modified apr 17, 2020 4:30 p.m.

UA president discusses antibody testing, financial impact of pandemic

The university plans to distribute 250,000 antibody tests for health care workers and first responders across Arizona.

This week the state of Arizona announced it would back the University of Arizona with at least $3.5 million to create 250,000 antibody tests to distribute to first responders and health care workers. UA President Robert Robbins discussed the purpose for the tests, which he also intends to roll out for the university’s 60,000 students, faculty and staff.

“If you look back to MERS and SARS, there was some immunity conferred by making antibodies to those viruses. So, we think that there will be some immunity, whether it’s six months, a year — two, three years — if it follows basic biology that’s what we hope,” Robbins said. “It’d be very helpful for frontline health care workers and for our students just to have the knowledge.”

Robbins also discussed the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on enrollment and employment at the university.

“The new international students are going to be self-limited. We’re planning for very few of them to come because the embassies overseas probably won’t be open until November. So, they can’t get their visas to come to be able to come to campus here in Tucson if they wanted to,” Robbins said. “The biggest question for me is going to be what happens to our domestic out-of-state students? Those students from California, from Texas, from Illinois, the East Coast. Do they make the trip out to Tucson to come back to face-to-face classes?”

An email from Robbins sent Friday to faculty and staff detailed his proposed furlough plan. It includes between 13 and 39 furlough dates taken over time. The number of days an employee must take depends on their salary. People making $200,000 or more would see a 20% salary reduction.

“We’re pretty convinced we’re going to have major losses at least in the first semester, and it may last 15 months. So, there will be inevitable layoffs unless we have some miracle … or a vaccine were to come out sooner than the year-to-18 months we think,” Robbins said.

Robbins said he hopes in-person classes can resume in fall 2020 but said it’s too soon to make any guarantees.

The outbreak led the university to cancel May’s graduation commencement. Instead, graduates and their guests can take part in a special live-stream experience on May 15. The UA hopes it can host an in-person ceremony during homecoming weekend at the end of October. Arizona 360 heard from several graduating seniors about the sense of loss campus closures and cancelations have imposed on the class of 2020.

Arizona 360
Arizona 360 airs Fridays at 8:30 p.m. on PBS 6 and Saturdays at 8 p.m. on PBS 6 PLUS. See more from Arizona 360.
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