Infectious disease doctor says robust testing needed for universities to reopen, still might not be enough


FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — The University of Arkansas plans to reopen for in-person classes in the fall, and some scientists said robust COVID-19 testing is needed to safely bring back students. A local infectious disease doctor said that might not be enough.

Abby Zimmardi’s junior year at the UofA didn’t go as planned.

“It was really hard because I think only two of my classes ended up doing Zoom classes,” Zimmardi said. “The rest of them were kind of like you had to teach yourself. That just doesn’t work for me to learn.”

When the UofA and universities across the state shut down in March amid COVID-19 concerns, Zimmardi moved home and began taking her courses online. This wasn’t easy, she said.

“It was overall just really hard working from home,” Zimmardi said.

The state’s flagship university announced last month that it has a plan in place to bring Zimmardi and other students back to campus in the fall. She said she hopes it works out.

“I was really excited about that,” Zimmardi said. “I’m really excited to go back to school.”

Northwest Arkansas has led the state in new coronavirus cases for a while, and that trend doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon. Dr. Stephen Hennigan is an infectious disease expert, and he said college campuses can be strongholds for transmission because of how many people will be packed into a tight space. The state has plenty of tests, he said, and robust COVID-19 testing could be possible in theory.

“If you test, especially in a place like that where people are likely to be kind of stuck together in a place where they might be contagious with each other, maybe you could quarantine people,” Hennigan said.

There are still problems with bringing students back regardless, Hennigan said.

“You can’t just assume somebody that’s gotten a negative test is not going to be contagious tomorrow,” Hennigan said.

Zimmardi said she wouldn’t be thrilled with the possibility of another digital semester.

“I wouldn’t prefer it, but if we need to do it, I definitely would do it,” Zimmardi said.

Still, Zimmardi said she’s concerned about thousands of college students and faculty returning to a place heavily impacted by COVID-19.

“I’m not too sure what to expect, honestly,” Zimmardi said. “I’m sure we’ll have to wear masks and stay six feet apart.”


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