While families and friends reunite for the Thanksgiving Break, some student workers have stayed in Gainesville to protect their immunocompromised loved ones from COVID-19.
UF administration encouraged faculty to offer courses and final exams remotely after Thanksgiving Break, so students could remain home if they chose to do so.
As of Thursday, there are 12,176 COVID-19 cases in Alachua County.
Neftali Guzman, a 21-year-old UF English senior, bartends at DownTown Fats at least four days a week since they reopened in September. Guzman said she has watched some students party safely while others have left their drinks at the bar, and strangers pick them up.
“That's pretty much what's paying my bills right now,” she said. “A lot of these students are just exposing themselves, so they know the risk they're taking.”
While she originally planned to go home for Thanksgiving Break, she said she doesn’t want to expose her immunocompromised family in Miami. Guzman’s mother suffers from diabetes, asthma and is overweight, which are all risk factors for COVID-19, and her 74-year-old grandfather, who currently suffers from cancer, has been isolating since the onset of the pandemic in March.
Guzman works 30 to 40 hours a week and occasionally 16 hour shifts on game days to pay for her tuition and housing costs. Guzman comes from a family of Cuban immigrants and said she has to help pay for her grandfather’s hospital bills, as well.
“I can’t afford the luxury of being at home,” she said.
While she has not visited Miami since Winter Break in 2019, she plans to quarantine in Gainesville for 10 days so she can visit her family for Christmas.
“I have been trying to do my best to keep my family safe,” Guzman said.
As a bartender at White Buffalo, a downtown bar, Rebecca Breyer spent the semester watching partiers share drinks and make out with strangers despite the pandemic.
Breyer, a 21-year-old pre-nursing Santa Fe junior, has worked at White Buffalo since 2017 and is planning to work through the Thanksgiving Break because her family is at higher risk for complications from COVID-19.
Santa Fe College will be closed during Thanksgiving Break from Nov. 26-28.
Her mother is immunocompromised due to asthma and gets bronchitis two to three times a month.
“I don't want to be a carrier unknowingly and give it to them,” she said.
White Buffalo is closed on Thanksgiving Day, but Breyer said she plans to work Friday and through the weekend. She said the virus is going to spread, and people need to remember to sanitize and wear a mask.
“I hate to say it, but this is my job,” Breyer said. “That's how I make money.”
Breyer is required to wear a face mask at all times as a bartender. While guests are instructed to wear a face mask while in line, Breyer said it’s hard to tell every person to put a face mask on once inside.
White Buffalo is restricting its capacity to 180 with four to five bartenders at a time, due to COVID-19, Breyer said. Guests are required to wear masks at all times unless they’re drinking, she said.
“We do get customers that'll come in and keep their masks on the entire time they’re here,” Breyer said. “But then there are the people who lose their mask as soon as they walk in the door.”
Millie Vanto, a 21-year-old UF elementary education master’s student, said she is staying in Gainesville for Thanksgiving Break because of the potential to spread COVID-19 to her family back home in Orlando.
She has worked as a desk assistant at Infinity Hall since 2018 where she logs packages, provides lock-out keys and ensures residents are following COVID-19 guidelines.
“I think that’s just a regular fear,” she said. “You could be a carrier, and you would never know.”
With both her parents older than 60, they’re at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Vanto said she gets monthly COVID-19 screenings and tested negative two weeks ago. She prefers to go home for Winter Break rather than just a week for Thanksgiving.
For students returning home, she hopes they’ll keep their Thanksgiving gatherings small and follow social distancing guidelines.
“The sooner you do follow these guidelines, the sooner we can go back to a normal lifestyle,” she said.