Tucson-Based Science Fair Adjusts For Coronavirus

Published: Tuesday, March 10, 2020 - 4:20pm
Updated: Thursday, March 12, 2020 - 9:32am

A record-breaking 2,225 science projects will be on display at the Tucson Convention Center later this week.

It’s the most submissions ever received for by the Southern Arizona Research Science and Engineering Foundation, which hosts an annual science fair for southern Arizona students of all ages.

But even with a record high number of projects, the convention center won’t be filled to the brim with students. CEO Liz Baker-Bowman said the fair is taking steps to mitigate health concerns that naturally arise when mixing thousands of school-aged children in close quarters amid fears of the spread of the coronavirus. 

In a Monday announcement, SARSEF officials announced the fair will go on, but with limited in-person events for students.

“Minimizing the number of large gatherings is not intended to cause alarm,” officials wrote in a statement. “It is a precaution we are taking to ensure that the SARSEF Fair, which brings joy to so many of us, continues to do so in a manner that does not have a likelihood of increasing health concerns.”

Baker-Bowman said that means elementary and middle school students won’t be present when their projects are judged. High school students were given the option to be judged remotely, with a phone call from a judge.

Most high school students so far have opted to show up in person, so officials are taking extra precautions by placing greater distance between each project. 

There’s even a new greeting for judges to use.

“Our fair has a new SARSEF handshake this year, which is two thumbs up for science. So we're encouraging people to greet each other that way,” Baker-Bowman said.

Meanwhile, schools across Arizona remain open. 

In a Tuesday letter to district superintendents, principals and charter school leaders, state Superintendent Kathy Hoffman wrote that the Department of Education is in constant contact with the Department of Health Services, the Governor’s Office and county health officials.

“At this time, school closures are not recommended by the Arizona Department of Health Services or any county Department of Public Health,” Hoffman wrote. “However, should that change, you should expect an announcement from a county health department.”

As for the fair, their decision to minimize contact at the fair is as much a concern for students as it is for the judges.

Baker-Bowman noted that while children aren’t necessarily at as high a risk for contamination, the demographics of the older judges means they could be at higher risk in a crowded environment.

Still, Baker-Bowman vowed that SARSEF is doing everything it can to encourage students and keep them excited about the science fair, including an awards ceremony — traditionally held at the convention center — broadcast on YouTube.

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