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 Florida Department of Health announced its second confirmed case of COVID-19 in Alachua County Thursday evening. It is unknown if the patient is a UF or Santa Fe College student.
Today, Santa Fe College trailed UF by a couple days when announcing that on-campus classes would be canceled.
Here’s the latest on coronavirus today in Gainesville and Alachua County:
Santa Fe college moves fully online
Santa Fe College wants its students to stay healthy and take preventative action against the coronavirus. That’s why it’s going fully online.
Santa Fe will make the switch starting Monday as a result of COVID-19, according to a video statement released Friday afternoon from the college’s President Paul Broadie II.
“We will continue to monitor the situation and do what’s best for our college, for our community and for our society,” Broadie said.
Santa Fe College’s decision comes a day after a second Alachua County resident tested positive for COVID-19 and two days after UF sent out an email announcing classes will move fully online by Monday. The emergency management team and college officials believed it was the best decision for the college community, said Jay Anderson, Santa Fe’s spokesperson.
“Things change constantly as the COVID-19 is progressing, so if there needs to be changes made, we will make them,” Anderson said.
Professors will have the option to use pre-recorded lectures or other types of online video conferencing platforms like Zoom, said Page Jerzak, assistant vice president for Santa Fe’s Center for Academic Technologies.
Santa Fe’s Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs will be available by phone to provide support and information to any Santa Fe student who needs to self-quarantine, according to the college’s COVID-19 information page.
To increase sanitation, the facilities department will continue to frequently clean all locations on campus, Anderson said.
To contain the spread of the virus, all on-campus events have been canceled, including the Spring Arts Festival and Open House, Anderson said. Like UF, campus is still fully operational, but they recommend engaging in social distancing, like avoiding mass gatherings, maintaining approximately six feet from people when possible and staying out of crowded settings, according to the CDC.
Moving forward, the academic departments will communicate with students to provide more details concerning classes. Anderson advises students and staff to keep up with accurate updates through the college’s website as the situation progresses.
“It is important for us as an institution to do our part to ensure the health and well-being and to make sure that we mitigate the COVID-19 virus,” Broadie said.
Schools canceled all over the state
Gov. Ron DeSantis has ordered all Florida public schools close for two weeks, according to the Florida Today.
During this time schools and buses will be deep cleaned. Schools are expected to open again on March 30.
Alachua County Public Schools confirmed on its twitter that schools will be closed during this time.
They also announced that children age 0-18 can pick up packaged meals next week from eight different locations: Bishop Middle School, Eastside High School, Gainesville High School, Buchholz High School, Newberry High School, Santa Fe High School, Hawthorne High School and SWAG Community Center.
UF Health to implement new visitor policy
UF Health announced Friday that new limitations would be put in place for visitors at all UF Health hospitals and freestanding emergency rooms, effective immediately.
The limitations now include the following: two designated visitors per a patient during their stay, one visitor at a time will be allowed on a rotating basis and no one under 18 is permitted to visit.
Additionally, the two designated visitors will receive wristbands — orange at UF Health hospitals and emergency rooms and lime green at UF Health Shands Children’s hospital.
Visitors who are showing symptoms of coronavirus are asked to not visit patients. Symptoms of coronavirus include fever, dry cough or shortness of breath.
UF researchers are trying to help find a solution for coronavirus.
Dave Ostrov is a UF Health researcher who is part of the Global Virus Network, an international collection of scientists who are working to combat viral diseases.
The assistant professor of pathology, immunology and laboratory medicine said in a YouTube video from UF Health that they found evidence that suggests ACE2, an enzyme that degrades other proteins, is used by both the coronavirus and SARS virus to get into cells.
Using this similarity, Ostrov said the researchers studied five compounds to see if binding them with ACE2 would have the potential to block the coronavirus, and he said the results showed that three of the five drugs had that potential.
“The next step is validation of these findings,” Ostrov said. “Blocking virus entry is going to be an important piece of this puzzle to try to impair the spread of the virus.”
He said blocking the virus’ entry is helpful to preventing its spread, and he said he expects the research to reveal how to interfere with coronavirus’ life cycle and how to create vaccines.
Counseling and Wellness Center to see patients remotely
For students with anxiety and depression like Crystal Ellison, the isolation from transitioning to online classes can trigger episodes of depression.
Not being in the classroom or going to regular campus activities can leave the 28-year-old Levin College of Law student alone a lot of the time, despite precautions she’s taken to guard her mental health like reaching out to other students, she said.
Students may experience increased feelings of anxiety and loneliness stemming from recent changes to classes because of the coronavirus, said Ernesto Escoto, the director of the Counseling and Wellness Center.
On Wednesday, UF President Kent Fuchs announced all classes would be temporarily moved online and encouraged students to go back to their hometowns until March 30. Although campus will be fully open and operational, the CWC will offering services through phone call and tele-health, a patient privacy certified video conferencing service offered through Zoom.
“It's important for students to maintain routine as much as possible in times like this. To also engage in activities that counteract any sense of helplessness and generate a sense of efficacy,” Escoto said. “Physical activities can be helpful and staying in touch with friends, loved ones, family members, if not face to face, maybe through social media, video chat.”
Transitions like these aim to minimize the spread of coronavirus, according to a statement on the CWC website.
Students can call (352) 392-1575 for support. Counselors will assess the needs of students and make follow-up plans as necessary for once classes resume on campus, Escoto said. There is no limit on the number of times students may call.
Regular and previously-scheduled appointments will also take place remotely. The CWC is in the process of calling students now to move previously scheduled appointments to phone or tele-health, Escoto said. All CWC staff will still be working in offices.
That number transitions after 4 p.m. to an overnight and over-the-weekend emergency phone-support service.The CWC offered this service before the pandemic.
Escoto said other resources, including the UF Multicultural and Diversity Affairs, Gatorwell, the Reitz Union and the Student Health Center, are also available.
Offering phone and tele-health services is better than nothing, but services like that haven’t worked for Ellison in the past. She said wishes the CWC could do more.
She’s said she’s seen that some facilities like labs are staying open now, and she thinks that seeing counselors in person should also be offered as a supplemental option for students in serious need.
“If other exemptions are being made so some students can continue using facilities on campus, I think that students who do need in-person contact at the CWC should be included in those exemptions,” she said.
Gainesville Regional Utilities to suspend cutoffs for services for 30 days
Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe announced on Facebook Thursday that the “commission directed GRU to suspend cutoffs for all services for 30 days. We will get an update and reassess at our April 2nd meeting.”
This goes into effect starting Monday, according to a GRU press release. The current policy has a 21-day grace period before shutting off services, which aren’t done on Fridays, Saturdays or Sundays.
The GRU lobby, located at 301 SE Fourth Ave., will continue to stay open during regular business hours, but customers are encouraged to use the self-payment service online or pay by phone. It is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
“For the safety of our customers and our employees, our customer service representatives are using hand sanitizer after payment transactions or wearing protective gloves,” the release read. “We have also added a sanitizing station in our lobby.”
Travel Updates for Studying Abroad
On top of several study abroad cancellations for the Spring and Summer, UF also cancelled this semester’s study abroad programs in Western Europe.
About 80 to 100 students abroad have been affected by this recent change, on top of the already 400 or so students who had other study abroad programs canceled. UF spokesperson Steve Orlando said programs in Africa, Latin America and Australia have not been affected.
Some students are still on their way back to the United States, Orlando said. He believes these students will be advised to self-quarantine for 14 days upon returning.
Orlando said no student is having difficulty getting back to the United States despite the travel restrictions implemented by U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday.
Currently, study abroad programs until this Spring and Summer are canceled in China, Iran, South Korea and Italy. Japan is still being reviewed.
International students are not affected and will not have trouble from Immigration and Customs Enforcement with UF going fully online, Orlando said, because the limit said the students can take only one 100 percent online course. However, this semester doesn’t count because the bulk of the coursework was done before classes went online.
The Alligator reached out to the UF International Center’s spokesperson, Mabel Cardec, who declined to answer questions.
Students coming back from Europe can still receive credit for their courses through completing them online, Orlando said.
Students who study abroad pay for their own travel, and most of them are simply changing their tickets, he said. UF is trying to put provisions to help students who have exceptional additional expenses and who need help paying them.
Controversial sign gone viral
“The coronavirus won’t last long because it was made in China.”
That is what a sign outside of National Vacuum, a Gainesville store known for unconventional messaging, read. The phrase was put up Monday and received immediate and intense backlash on social media, said Rick Bernal, the store manager.
“We never intended to offend anyone,” Bernal said. “We were trying to make a light joke out of a serious matter.”
Photos of the sign were shared internationally on popular Chinese social media apps like Weibo. Yifei Tang Sr., a 22-year-old UF sports management master’s student from Beijing, said someone from South Carolina first sent him the photo.
“I don’t think the sign was funny,” he said. “International students in the United States — we’re facing such a disaster. This is a really serious situation.”
Anti-Chinese sentiment is on the rise in the United States as coronavirus fears grow. UF President Kent Fuchs posted a tweet Friday stating Asian UF students have faced discrimination.
“It has been reported to me that some of our students of Asian descent have been targeted with racist comments. I condemn this behavior,” the tweet read.
Though the first reported coronavirus case originated in Wuhan, China, cases have since been reported in at least 131 countries. The virus is a global pandemic and cannot be attributed to any person or group based on racial identity.
Photos of the sign were also posted on Facebook and countless responded. Hundreds of people who have never shopped at the store — some who had never heard of Gainesville — left negative comments online and even called the store to complain. Some called the sign racist.
Bernal said he doesn’t regret the sign’s messaging because it started a conversation he otherwise wouldn’t have had.
The sign has existed since 1979 and has been used to remark on incidents like September 11 or occasions like Valentine’s Day ever since. It changed once more Friday to address the Incident.
“Our last message went ‘viral’. We never meant to offend,” the new sign read.
What’s happening with religious events?
Chabad UF’s rabbi is optimistic when handling changing situations with the coronavirus.
“The Jewish tradition teaches us that one must take dangerous situations more seriously than even religious situations,” Rabbi Aron Notik said.
Notik said no services are canceled. However, he is requiring everyone who enters the synagogue to wash their hands and is moving seats further apart.
Other religious groups in Gainesville are also adapting to the COVID-19 outbreak to help keep their members safe.
Catholic Gators announced Friday on Facebook it would take specific measures during its services. These adjustments were ordered from the Catholic Diocese of St. Augustine, which is in charge of a region of Florida that includes Gainesville.
Starting Saturday, the Holy Communion with the chalice was suspended and distributed only by hand. The physical sign of peace, shaking hands, was discontinued along with the non-liturgical practice of holding hands.
Greenhouse Church’s campus location posted an update Saturday, saying it will no longer hold Sunday services on campus, but it will instead live stream on YouTube, Facebook and Church Online — Greenhouse’s service streaming library — at 9 a.m., 10 a.m., 11 a.m. and noon.
Gator Wesley, the Methodist church next to The Standard on West University Avenue and across the street from campus, normally streams its services every Sunday for those who can’t attend. However, viewing the live stream is now the only option for members, said Joel Pancoast, a Gator Wesley director. Gator Wesley is also doing its weekly Bible studies using Zoom.
UF’s Islam on Campus postponed all scheduled events until March 30, including Relay for Life, Qur’an Competition, Spring BBQ, Town Hall and all brothers and sisters’ fellowship events.
Islam on Campus is working to find alternative solutions and dates for these events, according to an email sent to its members. Jummah, Friday prayer, on campus has also been canceled.
“We pray that these obstacles are removed and that everyone remains healthy,” the organization wrote in the email.
Valentina Botero, Alyssa Feliciano, Stephany Matat, Chasity Maynard, Allessandra Inzinna, Hannah Phillips, Nushrat Nur and Payton Titus contributed to this report.
Pictured is the Santa Fe College clock tower.