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Thursday, June 24, 2021

UF mandatory biweekly COVID-19 reduced to only students with in-person classes

The decision follows low positivity rates

Christopher Dawes, 20, a UF health science sophomore and Tri Gators member, leaves the Stephen C. O'Connell Center after getting tested for Covid-19 on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020.
Christopher Dawes, 20, a UF health science sophomore and Tri Gators member, leaves the Stephen C. O'Connell Center after getting tested for Covid-19 on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020.

After a monthlong streak of the lowest number of on-campus COVID-19 cases this semester, UF relaxed its mandatory biweekly testing for students.

In an email sent to students March 12, UF Vice President for Student Affairs D’Andra Mull announced students in Greek life or living in a residence hall and not taking face-to-face classes would no longer need to be tested every two weeks starting March 15. As a result, available testing hours will be reduced at on-campus locations. 

Epidemiologists from the UF Health Screen, Test & Protect program recommended the pull back following the university’s lowest reported cases since the start of the semester, Mull wrote. UF Health has advised the university since the start of the pandemic, basing decisions on testing and contact tracing data, Ken Garcia, a UF Health spokesperson wrote in an email. 

UF’s announcement also mentioned reduced availability in appointment scheduling for tests at places including Ben Hill Griffin Stadium and the UF Cultural Plaza parking garage starting Monday

Garcia said he’s not anticipating any future changes to who is exempt from guidelines.

“Students in face-to-face classes will continue to be part of routine testing on campus,” he wrote. “There is a natural overlap of these students who also live in residence halls and the Greek community, so there will still be monitoring in these areas for spread.”

The weekly seven-day average for positive cases tested on campus remained below 1% from Feb. 25 to March 11 before returning back to 1%, according to the university’s testing dashboard. The number of people in quarantine also dropped to a low of 221 on March 7, although the number has increased to 418 as of Sunday. 

As a student who hasn’t stepped into a classroom this school year, Yami Gonzalez, a 20-year-old UF business administration third year, felt the original precautions were the best way to monitor the spread as students returned to campus.

Gonzalez lives in Beaty Towers where groups of four residents share a kitchen and bathroom. She said COVID-19 cases haven’t been an issue on her floor, but it may differ in other dorms where larger pools of students interact in communal bathrooms and facilities. 

Wider student testing requirements aided the university’s efforts to mitigate spread, she said.

“I thought it was uncalled for,” Gonzalez said about the decrease in mandated students under new guidelines.

Juan Varela, a 21-year-old UF applied physiology and kinesiology junior, also acknowledged the balancing act the university does with student independence and disease control. He has one HyFlex lecture course he has elected to watch from Zoom but is still required to test for COVID-19 under the updated guidelines. 

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He lives in Tolbert Hall, which has experienced sporadic positive cases in the last two semesters. When a floormate tests positive, everyone else is urged to get tested immediately which he said has made living on campus a hassle. Varela gets tested weekly at the stadium gate 7 to get ahead of the mandated biweekly scheduling. 

He received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine last week at a Jacksonville site for his clinical volunteering but plans to continue his afternoon testing appointments. 

“This is probably the next step towards going to some state of normalcy,” Varela said. “So I’m glad they’re doing it.”

Contact Manny Rea at mrea@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @ReaManny.

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Manny Rea

Manny Rea is a journalism sophomore and the current health reporter for The Alligator. He worked as a copy editor in his freshman year before moving over to the Avenue in summer 2020. He likes to listen to dollar-bin records and read comics, and he is patiently waiting to go back to movies and concerts.


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