Over the last two weeks, faculty who will be teaching during the spring semester have been meeting in small groups for a series of conversations with UF Health Screen, Test & Protect Director Dr. Michael Lauzardo. These sessions will continue to be held through the rest of this week and again in early January. While the conversations have been wide-ranging, read on to see some of the more commonly asked questions along with Dr. Lauzardo’s answers.
Who will be contacted if a student in a class tests positive for COVID-19?
If a student in a class tests positive, that student will be withheld from campus, and disease investigators begin a contact investigation. However, this does not mean that everyone in that student’s classes will be contacted. Because masking and physical distancing are required in a classroom, students and faculty in those settings are not considered contacts for purpose of investigation unless they have had close, sustained contact with the student.
If I am identified as a contact, and I go to get tested and my result is negative, do I still need to quarantine?
Yes, although your test may come back negative, you could still carry and spread the virus to others, so it’s important to quarantine for the full time period recommended by the disease investigators following contact with someone who has tested positive. The duration of quarantine will be between 10-14 days.
If a student is close to me briefly, do I need to be tested?
While it’s best to remain physically distanced, if you are within 6 feet for 15 minutes or more cumulatively within a 24-hour period, you may want to get tested. Try to be cognizant of how long and how often you are doing so.
Will students be required to be tested during the spring semester?
Yes, between 24,000 to 25,000 students will be tested every two weeks during the spring semester. Based on a data-driven analysis of risk, we will be testing all students living in residence halls, fraternities and sororities as well as those taking in-person classes.
Are there standards for the types of face coverings students must wear?
Yes, anyone on campus must comply with the Masking and Physical Distancing Policy, which provides face-covering guidelines.
What a student refuses to wear a mask in the classroom?
Guidelines for Faculty in the Classroom, released by the Provost’s Office earlier this fall, provide procedures should this occur. That said, we’ve had 98% compliance among our students, which is much higher than most universities. But if anyone witnesses a violation, they can report it using the GatorSAFE mobile app.
Is there a student policy that reflects this that we should link to in our syllabus?
Yes, if you wish, you can to refer to or include the Student Behavioral Expectations in Response to COVID-19 Policy in your syllabus.
When can we expect vaccines to become available?
While vaccines began to be made available to front-line healthcare personnel this week and will reach vulnerable populations next, the average person can expect to be vaccinated in late March or early April.
Will we still need to wear masks one we are vaccinated?
Yes, because there is still a risk of asymptomatic spread, everyone will still need to wear masks and remain physically distanced. By May or June, we are hopeful everyone may be able to relax a bit more. While there’s still a lot we don’t know, we are optimistic.
Can you tell us a little more about air quality testing on campus?
While the average office building has one to two air changes per hour for energy efficiency, most UF buildings’ air is exchanged at minimum between four to five times per hour. While this is helpful, other measures supersede air exchange rates — including masking, staying home if we are sick or have had contact with those who have tested positive and physical distancing.
If you have questions about the air exchange in your building, you can submit an inquiry to https://gatorworks.facilitiesservices.ufl.edu/request.
What about field trips? Is it ok to ride in vehicles with others?
If you are in a vehicle with someone who is not in your quarantine group, be sure to wear a mask and keep your windows open if possible. For more information, please see the UF Vehicle Use Policy.
Should I be concerned that our area’s ICU capacity is listed as being around 93%?
No, this number is not unusual; in fact, last year it was also around 93% at this time of year, and the rate can fluctuate. In July, we had a peak of 25 people with COVID-19 in the ICU, but right now that number is 15, and that is well within our capacity. Of course, we will remain flexible if things change, but as of this time, it is not a worry for us.
I’m anxious for my graduate assistants who are teaching larger numbers of students face-to-face. Isn’t it better to be overly cautious?
While it’s certainly valid to have these concerns, we have to trust the data. Numbers are not skyrocketing in Florida, and definitely not in Alachua County. In terms of risk, the secondary attack rate in your own household is much higher—those numbers are at about 20 to 30%. The data tell us that most of the spread is happening in the home when we relax a bit and let others outside of our “pod” into our home. You are actually safer in the classroom, masked and physically distanced from students who are similarly masked and distanced.
Is there a point at which UF would return to offering classes online instead of in-person?
There would have to be very broad strokes to determine we would need to do this on a large scale. But it wouldn’t make sense, for example, to move English classes back online if there was suddenly a surge in a specific clinical setting.
UF originally moved online quickly at the start of the pandemic because of the uncertainty of the situation and in an effort to slow things down so we had time to prepare for what was inevitable. We knew we needed to get PPE and build our testing capacity, but we may have inadvertently given the impression that this was the only way to prevent spread, when we know that’s not the case.
I like to provide the metaphor of keeping one foot on the gas and one on the brakes. As we move ahead, we will cautiously move forward while being prepared to pump the brakes when it becomes necessary. But for now, we have the PPE and testing capacity needed to support our faculty, staff and students. And our healthcare force is well prepared and ready to help when needed.