While the Delta variant strikes the unvaccinated across the globe, UF COVID-19 rates peak higher than one year ago.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reversed its May decision on Tuesday, recommending some vaccinated people to wear masks again to maximize protection and prevent spreading the Delta variant.
As of Tuesday, UF did not provide comment on whether the university will be following the updated CDC guidelines nor respond to questions regarding updates on its masking policies.
“Masks are optional and we recommend those not fully vaccinated for COVID-19 to continue wearing them,” UF spokesperson Hessy Fernandez wrote. “We will continue to monitor the progress of the pandemic, both locally and nationally and are always prepared to modify our approach if conditions warrant.”
The CDC said unvaccinated people should continue to wear masks at all times and recommended even fully vaccinated people wear a mask indoors in places with high virus transmission like Florida.
Even though fully vaccinated individuals experience significantly decreased risk of infection and severe illness, the CDC announced Tuesday those infected with the Delta variant can still spread the virus to others.
This month, UF reached its highest COVID-19 positivity rates since March, with 57 reported positive cases out of 1,070 tests from July 20 to July 26 — peaking at a 6% seven-day average positivity rate.
In July 2020, daily cases peaked at 21 new cases. A year later, daily cases increased over 57% with a daily peak of 33 new cases July 19.
As of Tuesday, the number of people in quarantine or isolation increased over 460% from the second to third week of July, going from 95 to 535 people. Of the total, 224 were students, 173 were employees, 136 were UF affiliates and two were unknown.
UF Health Shands Hospital reported 99 COVID-19 patients with 92% unvaccinated, UF Health’s Doug Bennett said.
The number increased over 40% from the 70 patients reported July 19, of whom UF Health CEO Ed Jimenez said were younger patients.
Vaccines are effective and breakthrough cases occur in only a small percentage of vaccinated people, according to the CDC. Out of over 161 million people fully vaccinated, the CDC reported 5,914 breakthrough cases that resulted in hospitalization or death as of July 19.
Rachel Peterson, a 21-year-old advertising senior, tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday and anticipated a grueling battle with the virus. Despite being fully vaccinated, she was infected by an unvaccinated family member.
Peterson croaked out between some sputtering coughs that she’s actually doing quite well. Her COVID-19 experience boiled down to feeling slightly tired and dizzy for a couple days. She said she has already bounced back to feeling normal.
Meanwhile, the unvaccinated family member has had more severe and long lasting symptoms: an anxiously monitored fever, extreme fatigue and muscle weakness persisting over a week later.
While not one additional cough escaped Peterson, her family member’s chest still heaves with each deep, congested wheeze. She worries about their potential for permanent lung damage, which vaccines can help prevent.
“That kind of taught me the importance of the vaccine,” she said. “I’ve had colds worse than this.”
The rest of her three immediate family members have each been infected with the virus.
“Now, I’m kind of thinking twice again just about wearing masks — especially with the CDC guidelines changing,” Peterson said.
She said everyone should be more selfless in times like this, whether that means wearing a mask or getting vaccinated.
“My biggest takeaway from all of this,” she said. “Just really take care of those around you.”
UF President Kent Fuchs and other Florida university presidents are urging all students to get vaccinated before returning to campus, according to an email sent Tuesday by the State University System of Florida.
“Since the onset of the pandemic, our successes are a result of our campus communities accepting a shared responsibility for their health and well-being and practicing recommended precautions,” the email stated.
UF sent out a campus brief Friday reiterating the return to normal operations in Fall and urging the university community to get vaccinated if they have not done so already.
Any unvaccinated student who contracts the virus will not be cleared for campus and must miss classes when leaving or returning home to quarantine.
The university said if someone chooses not to be vaccinated, they are taking on a significant risk of contracting COVID-19.
UF will not be responsible for that risk, given the availability of vaccines, the brief stated. UF will not modify operations of the entire university for a minority of people who choose to not be vaccinated.
“We want to be clear on this point because it is important that people understand the potential consequences of their choice,” UF stated.
A UF Health statement in May estimated that between 70% and 80% of UF students have received a COVID-19 vaccine. The estimate is based on informal polls at the testing site, conversations with staff and students and its own vaccination numbers.
After over two months of requests from The Alligator, UF has not provided supporting data for the estimation.
Over 60,0000 vaccines have been administered across UF’s vaccination sites, UF Senior Vice President for Health Affairs David Nelson said.
Alachua County reported an 11.4% new case positivity rate for July 16 to July 22, while the state of Florida reached 15.1% new case positivity, according to the Florida Department of Health.
The national seven-day average positivity is 7.6%, according to the CDC.
Now the epicenter of the pandemic, Florida ranked the worst nationally with over 87,000 weekly cases, according to the CDC.
The Florida Department of Health is no longer releasing daily COVID-19 updates and county death statistics.
Alachua County reported June 3 a total of 285 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. There have been a total of 26,683 cases and 140,496 people vaccinated, according to the Florida Department of Health.
There were 664 new positive cases and 1,220 people vaccinated from July 16 to July 22, according to the Florida Department of Health.
New positive cases increased over 400% from the 131 cases reported for the week of July 2, according to Alachua County.
UF Health is offering walk-up vaccinations, and Alachua County has upcoming walk-up vaccine clinics at Thomas Coward Auditorium.
Contact Alexandra Harris at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @harris_alex_m.
Alexandra is a senior journalism major reporting on Science/Environment for The Alligator. Her work has appeared in The Gainesville Sun, and she filed public records requests for the Why Don't We Know investigative podcast. She has a passion for the environment.