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Tuesday, April 23, 2024
<p>Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)</p>

Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)

Editor's Note: If you think you might have COVID-19, contact the Alachua County Health Department at (352) 334-7900 or the Student Health Care Center at (352) 392-1161. 

The city of Gainesville and UF are making more emergency decisions this week in regard to concerns from COVID-19. City Commissioners called an emergency meeting this afternoon to address the outbreak. 

To slow the spread of the virus, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended Sunday that no gatherings with 50 people or more take place during the next eight weeks. Despite the CDC’s recommendation yesterday, the White House advised people today to avoid groups of more than 10 and to avoid bars and restaurants.

There are currently three cases of coronavirus in Alachua County, according to Paul Myers, administrator for the county health department. However, just a day before, the state department of health announced that a 4th person had tested positive for the virus in the state. 

Myers said through their investigation, they learned this case, which actually resides in Broward County, was “incorrectly attributed” to Alachua County. He said his department determined that "the error may be attributed to a data entry error by the State." 

The Alligator reached out to the Florida Department of Health for comment but has not heard back as of Monday evening.

Follow The Alligator’s timeline for the latest every day. Here’s what you need to know about COVID-19 today:

Fuchs addresses UF community through Twitter

UF President Kent Fuchs addressed the UF community through a video message this afternoon.

Fuchs said that he expects that the university will be making an announcement regarding the status of classes beyond March 30 and the status of big events in April and May, such as graduation, by the end of this week. 

This comes after the CDC recommended that all gatherings of 50 or more people be canceled or postponed for the next eight weeks. 

The university-wide graduation ceremony is set for May 1, about seven weeks away. 

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Additionally, Fuchs announced that effective this morning all university travel is prohibited for all UF employees until further notice.

On Wednesday, Trump announced a travel ban for non-U.S. citizens who were traveling from Western Europe. On Saturday, he updated his restrictions to include Ireland and the U.K. 

Fuchs announced that as of today, all 5,000 classes at UF are fully online. He thanked faculty and staff for responding rapidly, and thanked students for their “understanding and flexibility.”

Fuchs said that while classes are online and some staff are working remotely, essential services, such as the Student Health Care Center, are still open.

At the end of the address, Fuchs urged everyone to practice social distancing in both their personal and university lives.

City and county taking new measures to protect against virus 

City and county officials are taking measures to curb the spread of COVID-19.

County Commission Chair Robert Hutchinson declared a local "State of Emergency" in Alachua County on Monday afternoon, according to a press release. By declaring this, the county government will have a “greater ability to react as needed to the COVID-19 events,” the release read. 

This announcement came just as the Gainesville City Commission began its emergency meeting at 3:30 p.m. in City Hall Auditorium to discuss public safety measures, such as closing parks and recreation programs. The meeting can be viewed live on the city’s website.

City Commission emergency meeting
The Gainesville city attorney briefs the mayor and the city commission on the implications of declaring a state of emergency in the city during an emergency meeting today. 

The city announced it will close several parks, playgrounds, gymnasiums, pools and recreation facilities indefinitely, according to a press release from the city. All previously scheduled programs, events and recreational activities are suspended. 

Community gardens and Tot Lots, small parks for children, will remain open, in addition to 19 open-air parks, fields and trails, the release read.

During the meeting, Gainesville also declared a state of emergency for the next week, limiting occupancy of restaurants, places of worship, bars and other businesses to 50 people. The restrictions do not apply to hospitals, pharmacies or grocery stores.

With St. Patrick’s Day on Tuesday, some UF students and Gainesville residents are concerned about the virus spreading. Local bars and restaurants like The Social GNV, Swamp Restaurant, Crafty Bastards Restaurant & Pub and others were advertising events or St. Patrick’s Day specials.

"If Ireland is sacrificing St. Patrick's Day, I think we can here as well –– for the public good," said City Commissioner David Arreola at the meeting. 

The Alligator reached out to Rosanna Passaniti, spokesperson for the city government, to ask about Gainesville’s plan for large-scale events planned at Midtown for the holiday. She responded with generic information about the ordinance. 

She added that businesses that fail to comply with the order will be granted a warning and opportunities to reduce the number of people in their establishments to comply with the order or they will be subject to closure. 

Just a few hours later, JJs Tavern announced via Instagram that midtown bars Fat Daddys, Rowdy Reptile, and JJ’s will be closed starting tomorrow until further notice. The St. Pattys Rock the Block Party will be rescheduled as well. 

However, in a follow-up announcement, JJ’s promoted its drink specials for tonight -- $4 triples and $5 buckets. 

The county also announced late this afternoon that The Alachua County Health Department has opened a call center to answer the community’s questions regarding COVID-19, according to a press release.

The call center’s phone number is 352-334-8810.

Graduation’s future remains uncertain 

The future of UF’s two university-wide graduation ceremonies and the 17 college ceremonies currently remains unknown. 

Stephanie McBride, director of UF commencements, sent an email to graduating students today saying that “no decision has been made” on whether the ceremonies will still happen as scheduled. 

McBride wrote that the decision will depend on whether the university will have to follow the CDC recommendation of canceling or postponing any events with 50 or more people. McBride said that if they have to follow the guidelines, the ceremonies will be rescheduled to the summer. 

All summer study abroad canceled 

UF announced today that all study abroad trips scheduled for this summer would be canceled. An email was just sent to UF students from the International Center.  

A Facebook post in a group for students who planned to study abroad in Japan this summer said that UF would be canceling all study abroad and that students should expect to receive a refund for their trips. The email stated that they’d try to refund as much in fees as possible.

UFIC said in the email that they will be working with providers to “recover as many expended costs as possible.” 

On March 6, UF spokesperson Steve Orlando confirmed that all summer trips to China, South Korea, Italy and Iran would be canceled. 

Earlier this month, 41 students and two faculty studying abroad in Italy were sent back to Florida after the outbreak of coronavirus in the country began to increase. The students and faculty from this trip were self-quarantined for 14 days.

Sheriff's office initiatives 

The Alachua County Sheriff's Office announced the temporary suspension of several operations to support the statewide initiative to social distance in a press release Monday. 

While there will be no interruptions of patrol operations, guidelines for citizen contact have been provided for deputies and field service technicians, according to the release.

There will be limited activity within courthouses until 5 p.m. March 27, according to the release. Until then, jury selection, jury trials and grand jury proceedings are suspended, according to another press release sent by the county. All county and circuit criminal court events are suspended, except for first appearances, bond reduction hearings, in custody Change of Plea where release from incarceration is expected and matters that the court determines to be urgent.

All hearings in the family, juvenile delinquency, juvenile dependency, county civil, circuit civil, probate, guardianship, mental health and civil traffic divisions will be conducted electronically, according to the press release. There is an exception for juvenile detention hearings, domestic violence injunction hearings and matters the court determines as urgent.

Inmate visitation at the county jail is canceled until March 18, according to the release. Until then, inmates will be given one free 15-minute internet visit and two free calls weekly.

Fingerprinting will be suspended, along with interviews, crime prevention presentations and polygraphs conducted by humans, the release read. The evidence unit has also suspended all activities to the public. No end date has been set. 

All agency in-service training and citizen ride-along programs have also been cancelled, and the Youth and Community Resource Units, which oversees community outreach, has suspended all events, the release read.

Voting for the presidential primaries

Voting is still taking place in Alachua County amid event closures and rescheduling.

As of Monday afternoon, the county’s Supervisor of Elections office did not receive word from Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee to postpone voting for the state’s Democratic primary election tomorrow, said Alachua County Supervisor of Elections spokesperson TJ Pyche.

“Our office will open polling places as planned tomorrow, and we continue to work to conduct this election,” Pyche said.

Florida, Ohio, Arizona and Illinois all have primary elections scheduled for Tuesday. While Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine asked for the state primary to be postponed until June 2 and is awaiting the final decision from a court judge, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Floridians could still exercise their voting rights without gathering in large numbers.

Activist groups including New Florida Majority, Organize Florida and Dream Defenders filed a lawsuit today against the state of Florida for refusing to extend vote-by-mail for the primary amid COVID-19 concerns. 

One of the plaintiffs named in the lawsuit, Acacia Williams, is a UF student who complied with university directions to leave campus until March 30 and as a result, is unable to vote in person. 

Due to the expired deadline, Williams was unable to request a vote-by-mail ballot, according to the lawsuit

Although the county was understaffed for Tuesday due to the concerns of poll workers becoming infected, Pyche said members of the community have already stepped in to fill the positions of those who called out.

Although none of the workers have reported feeling sick at polling locations, precautions are being taken to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, he said. This includes cleaning work areas, washing hands regularly and making use of social distancing.

Over the past month, the elections office has announced seven relocated voting locations, with one as recent as Sunday.

If voters arrive at the wrong location, Pyche said they would be redirected to the correct one.

Contact Alyssa Feliciano, Grethel Aguila and Samantha Chery contributed to this report. 

Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)

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