Alachua County’s positive COVID-19 cases reached 87 this evening, as the state’s confirmed cases continue to surge.
According to a daily report from the Florida Department of Health, seven new Florida resident cases were announced in the county since yesterday morning:
While the ‘Florida Cases’ tab on the state department of health’s dashboard shows 13 hospitalizations, only 12 are shown under the ‘Cases by County’ tab, which shows chart data for Alachua. Today, UF Health spokesperson Ken Garcia confirmed that six positive COVID-19 patients are being treated at Shands hospital.
Recovered county cases are not shown on the dashboard. The Alligator asked last week if this would be added, and the state department said the state is “developing new efforts daily” and looks forward to sharing more information about recovered cases as it becomes available.
Gainesville carries the bulk of Alachua County’s cases, with a total of 68, according to the daily report. No new positive cases were reported at UF today or yesterday, leaving the total at 29.
Florida confirmed a total of 6,741 cases today, with 6,490 being state residents.
Schools to remain closed until May at earliest
Alachua County public school students won’t resume in-person classes until at least early May.
Yesterday, Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran announced that schools will remain closed through May 1 due to COVID-19 concerns, shifting the new projected date for reopening to May 4, according to Alachua County Public Schools’ website.
Students’ last day of school is scheduled for May 28, according to the 2020-2021 school year calendar.
Changes for Greek life
As UF students continue their spring semester online, UF sororities and fraternities are making changes to practice social distancing.
On Monday afternoon, UF spokesperson Steve Orlando told The Alligator that most fraternity and sorority members have left campus in alignment with President Kent Fuchs’ orders, after the university communicated with the groups several times to leave. To their knowledge, two houses have closed and “some houses” have a few members left.
Orlando said he didn’t know which two houses have closed, or if they were fraternity or sorority houses.
UF’s Panhellenic Council posted an announcement on their Facebook page Monday afternoon offering support to members as well as informing them of some changes. In the announcement, Panhellenic President Alexa Young mentions a transition to virtual meetings and the cancellation or rescheduling of all in-person events through May 3.
In the announcement, Young encouraged all chapter members to follow local, state, and federal government and CDC guidelines. However, the announcement doesn’t mention any requirements for sorority members to leave their houses.
Young did not respond for further comment when The Alligator reached out to her four times through email, as well as through text, Instagram and Facebook between March 15 and Tuesday.
The Alligator reached out to several sorority presidents to ask about any changes they were making or if any houses had been shuttered, but only received a response from Pi Phi President Molly Voytecek who declined to comment on any of the sororities’ current activities.
LifeSouth calls on residents to donate blood during pandemic
Laura Bialeck encourages healthy Gainesville residents to donate blood to LifeSouth to avoid catastrophic shortages.
LifeSouth, a non-profit community blood bank, aims to have 100 blood donations per day, said Bialeck, the organization’s community development coordinator. This month they’ve had 70 per day.
The blood bank had to cancel about 100 blood drives scheduled after UF transitioned fully online on March 16 through the first week of April, Bialeck said. Now that Alachua County Public Schools will remain closed through May 1, LifeSouth has continued to cancel more high school blood drive events, she said.
To make up for some of the loss of blood donations, UF Health Shands Hospital set up a section in the north tower of the hospital where faculty and staff can go and donate blood, said Bruce Spiess, a professor of anesthesiology and associate chair of research in the UF College of Medicine’s department of anesthesiology.
Because blood centers are considered essential businesses, LifeSouth did not close down after the county-wide stay-at-home order was issued on March 23. Residents can donate blood at their centers located on Newberry Road and 13th Street or at their bloodmobiles across town located in high traffic areas like Butler Plaza.
As of now, it is believed people cannot contract the virus from donating blood. However, there's no research that shows that COVID-19 cannot be transferred through blood, Spiess said.
Drawing blood is not possible standing 6 feet apart, but LifeSouth is taking extra precautions to prevent spreading the virus, Bialeck said. This includes taking the potential donor’s temperature before they begin the registration process and only allowing three people inside a bloodmobile at once.
It’s difficult to get more blood donors since there aren’t many places to go and because of the stay-at-home order, Bialeck said. As of now, their blood supply is stable, but if donations continue to drop, they predict their supplies will start to run low toward the end of April.
LifeSouth supplies 100 percent of the blood to all hospitals in Gainesville, which is why it is important for them to get a consistent amount of daily donations, Bialeck said.
The blood type most needed is O negative because it’s the universal blood type, which means that anybody can receive it, she said.
“In the event of a global crisis, people often report feeling powerless or wish they could do something to help,” she said. “By donating blood, you’re giving directly to the health of your community at a time when it’s most needed.”
Alachua Dollar General distribution center employee tests positive for COVID-19
Dollar General confirmed Tuesday that an Alachua distribution center employee has tested positive for COVID-19.
The employee hasn’t been at work for five days and isn’t being allowed to return for at least two weeks after this confirmed positive, according to a press release from Dollar General.
The company has taken “proactive and preventative measures to halt operations at the Alachua distribution center,” which is expected to resume operations after an “extensive and thorough” cleaning.
The release did not specify when this will happen. However, it did state that employees are being paid during this time.
In the meantime, Dollar General has increased the ongoing cleaning at the facility in accordance with guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the release read. Additionally, the company is communicating steps to contain and avoid the spread of COVID-19 to employees.
“Our thoughts are with our employee,” the release read. “And we wish them a quick recovery.”
First Care expands hours to relieve emergency centers
An urgent care center is expanding its operations to meet the needs of Gainesville patients affected by COVID-19.
First Care, located at 4343 Newberry Rd., is opening its doors from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays starting this week, in addition to its normal Monday through Friday hours between 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., SIMEDHealth announced in a press release.
Hours were expanded because they do not want patients with symptoms to have to wait over the weekend to be screened by physicians, said Kristin Roberts, vice president of support services for SIMEDHealth.
They hope the new hours take pressure away from emergency centers and hospitals, she said, helping slow the rising number of cases in Alachua County.
“The whole idea is to help to reduce the burden,” she said.
First Care has seen a lot more people seeking information on their own health since the outbreak, and Roberts said anyone with questions can call First Care at (352) 373-2340.
The center sees 800 to 1,000 patients a day, she said, mostly people with health concerns unrelated to COVID-19. She said these numbers are actually lower than normal due to social distancing and procedure restrictions.
The center is following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines for testing, and she said people can be screened to see if they meet the criteria for COVID-19 testing before a physician decides if they qualify. She said they also screen non-COVID patients for illnesses like the flu and pneumonia.
How long extended hours will be offered is undetermined, but Roberts said they are in place indefinitely.
“We’re just trying to do our part to keep our hospitals available to see those emerging cases,” she said.
Alex DeLuca, Sarah Mandile, Valentina Botero and AJ Bafer contributed to this report.
Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)