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NAU joins Coconino County’s COVID-19 contact tracing team
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NAU joins Coconino County’s COVID-19 contact tracing team


Coconino County Health and Human Services’ COVID-19 investigation team has nearly doubled as a result of a new partnership with Northern Arizona University to manage campus cases.

The university has hired five contact tracers, which it is referring to as "case investigators," to assist in local efforts to track the spread of COVID-19 through the community. They joined a team of about seven existing Coconino County Health and Human Services (CCHHS) contact tracers last week.

“We found that our students respond better to our employees and it is the County’s responsibility to do contact trancing, but we can help them in the investigation,” NAU President Rita Cheng said during a presentation to the NAU Faculty Senate last week.

NAU is managing 79 COVID-19 cases in students living both on- and off-campus according to its latest update, which was released Friday. That is 48 fewer cases than the previous week.

“Continued testing, and your efforts to protect yourself and our community, is making a difference,” Cheng said in a letter to the campus community that was also released Friday.

NAU recently updated its COVID-19 website with a new graph showing the weekly results from its testing site at the University Fieldhouse. Overall testing and positives both peaked the week of Sept. 14, with 2,987 tests administered and 277 positives, or a 9.3% positivity rate, and have since been declining.

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In her presentation to the Faculty Senate, Cheng said these positives are mostly among students and the 1,500 community members who have received testing at the Fieldhouse. Cases among faculty and staff have remained in the single digits throughout the month, she explained.

Cheng also noted that the campus is currently at 74% capacity for housing, with more than 6,000 students living on campus. The university is providing COVID-19 isolation and quarantine spaces in a residence hall, with 122 beds for isolation and 317 beds for quarantine. The isolation space on campus is less than half full and the university has additional room for quarantining students at a local hotel.

CCHHS Epidemiologist Matt Maurer said NAU’s new investigators will be assigned cases that are known to be affiliated with the campus, such as students and employees, and will report tracing information to the County’s COVID-19 response and monitoring teams.

Existing members of the investigation team will still be assigned some NAU cases, but Maurer said NAU’s investigators will help reduce that burden.

“It’s really why we talked to them and created this partnership, knowing the potential for increased workload with conducting investigations [because of] NAU going back to class and having students living on campus and the potential for transmission for virus,” Maurer said. “I really think it’s going to be a great partnership.”

As of Tuesday, Coconino County reported 4,449 total COVID-19 cases, up 38 cases from Monday, including 203 total cases in the 86011 ZIP code, which covers the NAU campus.

In a review of the last week of COVID-19 data, Maurer said many of the new cases fell within the 20-44 age range as well as the group for those under 20 years old, but a deeper breakdown shows many of these cases are in the 18-25 age range.

Kaitlin Olson can be reached at the office at or by phone at (928) 556-2253.

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