Returning UF students can expect quarantines, face masks and social distancing in the fight against COVID-19 in The Swamp.
Staff and students will be required to wear masks when inside UF facilities, said UF Senior Vice President Charles Lane in a meeting with county and city commissioners Wednesday.
UF currently has 1.4 million disposable masks and 140,000 cloth masks it intends to give out during the semester, Lane said. Each student will receive two UF-themed cloth masks in a welcome back kit for all students, he added.
Students who cannot wear masks because of a medical condition will be given face shields, said UF Health President David Nelson.
UF will be able to conduct 1,000 COVID-19 tests a day, Lane said. About 72 percent of UF’s 18,600 employees were already tested. Forty-eight UF employees have tested positive.
While testing is optional for most UF students, it will be mandatory for students who are symptomatic, as well as those who are learning in clinical and research settings like nursing students, Lane said.
Students who test positive for the virus will be required to quarantine for 10 to 14 days, depending on their level of symptoms, Lane said. UF has set aside 136 beds on-campus and 150 beds off-campus to quarantine students, Lane said. It is unclear where these beds will be.
The county health department will help with contact tracing for students who test positive, Nelson said.
“If I am positive, they are going to call me and say ‘Hey, Dave Nelson. I need you to walk me through the last few days of your life,’” Nelson said.
Anyone who was within six feet of someone with COVID-19 will need to isolate and get tested, Nelson said. If they test positive, then they will be quarantined and contact traced.
After UF’s presentation, some city officials raised concerns about student compliance with the county’s mask requirement.
The city will let the university know if any students get cited for not wearing a mask or following safety procedures so UF can discipline them, said Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe. He said he doesn’t want any variation between expectations on or off campus.
However, Poe said local businesses should brainstorm how to safely provide entertainment for students to lessen the appeal of indoor house parties or large social gatherings during the school year.
“We have got to reimagine—and almost create—from scratch a new culture in Gainesville, not just for our students but for everybody,” Poe said.
At the end of the meeting, the city commission directed the city and county to collaborate with UF to recruit more contact tracers.
City Commissioner David Arreola also said local government needs to create what he called a “one Gainesville culture” to implement more safe community entertainment options.
“If we don’t have an alternative, people are going to get sick at all those indoor house parties,” Arreola said.
During public comment, callers disagreed on whether UF students would follow safety protocols.
“To say that they are going to be ‘good after class’ is so naive it's on the point of ridiculous,” the caller said, a caller said.
Another said she was hopeful because she saw more college-aged people following the county’s mask ordinance than older people.
“If they can be taught not to smoke cigarettes in class, I am certain they are smart enough to understand the importance of wearing a facemask on and off campus,” the caller said.
Surveys showed that most UF students take wearing a mask and other safety protocols seriously, Lane said. However, only the return of students will show how well they follow COVID-19 procedures.
“We are gonna find out when they come back just how serious they are about it, and they are gonna find out just how serious we are about it,” Lane said.