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story.lead_photo.caption University of Arkansas students are shown on the lawn in front of Old Main on the campus in Fayetteville in this file photo. - Photo by David Gottschalk

FAYETTEVILLE -- Drive-up covid-19 testing will take place for three consecutive days starting Wednesday at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville as the campus prepares for spring semester classes set to begin next week.

"All members of the campus community are strongly encouraged to attend one of the testing days even if they are asymptomatic or have no known exposure," UA spokesman Zac Brown said in an email. "This will help us better identify and slow the spread of cases as we begin the new semester."

Testing for UA students, faculty and staff will run from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. across from UA's Baum-Walker Stadium. The state Department of Health is hosting the clinic, according to the university.

The state has recently seen record highs in new daily covid-19 case counts and hospitalizations. A Health Department spokesman said the event is being held at the request of UA, with a private lab being used to analyze the test samples. In its announcement, UA said results will be returned within 24-48 hours of testing.

Classes for the spring term are set to begin Jan. 11, with UA like many colleges in the state offering a mix of in-person, remote and hybrid courses.

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No similar Health Department testing events are currently scheduled at other college campuses, Health Department spokesman Gavin Lesnick said.

Colleges in the state have selected varying dates -- and ways -- to start their spring terms. The University of Central Arkansas, for example, will start classes Jan. 19, a week later than is typical. A covid-19 testing event is planned for Jan. 20 at the Conway campus, according to UCA's website. The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff will start its spring term Jan. 11 but with most classes starting out in remote-instruction formats, the school announced last fall.

While UA announced Monday that testing is "strongly encouraged," it is not mandatory, unlike at some other universities.

Among large public universities, the University of Oklahoma and the University of Missouri, for example, announced last month that covid-19 tests would be required for students living on campus. In Arkansas, the private Hendrix College -- which enrolls far fewer students than UA -- has said students are required to be tested for covid-19 upon their arrival or before the Jan. 19 start of classes.

Brown said that while UA is not requiring testing, the campus is working with students so that more tests are done.

"The three-day drive-through testing clinic the first week of the semester is a part of that effort to make testing as convenient as possible for our campus community," Brown said. "We also plan to continue various incentive programs and we're currently working with the Associated Student Government on some ideas for how best to entice students to get tested."

UA on its website Monday reported having 23 active cases of covid-19 among students, faculty and staff. In the fall semester, active case totals peaked in early September with more than 700 cases, according to UA data.

A state Department of Health report, which differs from UA's data, on Monday listed a cumulative total of 3,054 covid-19 cases for the campus since June 15.

The university's fall semester final exams ended Dec. 18.

In September, UA's top administrator, Joe Steinmetz, encouraged students to get tested for covid-19, stating that "I fear that we could have more cases than are being documented."

UA spokesman Brown said throughout the spring term the main campus health clinic will offer covid-19 testing by appointment. New this spring, students and employees can go online to schedule a time to be tested, Brown said.

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