With Fall classes set to begin Monday, UF’s COVID-19 case numbers are reaching peaks comparable to last winter.
New COVID-19 cases broke records at 60 positive cases on Aug. 2, the highest single-day total since January. Attributed to the Delta variant, numbers have continued to rise — 1,644 new positive cases developed last week in Alachua County.
Preceding the start of classes, UF reported 185 new cases from Aug. 11 to Aug. 17. The campus maintained a 6% seven-day positivity average rate as seen over the past month — an increase from its 1% weekly positivity rates reported early July.
Since March 18, 2020, UF Health has recorded more than 7,600 positive student COVID-19 cases.
As of Aug. 16, the national seven-day average for new COVID-19 cases was 128,347 per day — the largest weekly average since February, when cases peaked at 66. The Centers for Disease Control and Protection attributed 86.1% of cases between Aug. 8 and Aug. 14 to the Delta variant.
Despite the rise in COVID-19 cases, UF has not mandated masks on campus. Instead, the university updated guidance to “expect” mask usage and encouraged students to receive the COVID-19 vaccine through the school.
An Aug. 12 town hall addressed concerns about rising case numbers and the pros and cons of getting vaccinated. Michael Lauzardo, UF Health’s Screen, Test and Protect director promptly addressed doubts and concerns.
At the meeting, Lauzardo answered a wide variety of questions from more than 600 UF faculty and staff. Attendees submitted prepared questions and participated in a live Q&A. Lauzardo repeated his overall message throughout the meeting.
“If you haven't been vaccinated, please do your due diligence, because this [pandemic] is not going to go away until we get vaccinated,” Lauzardo said.
He recommended vaccinations for all, even those who previously contracted COVID-19 and retained a natural immunity.
COVID-19 vaccines provide far more protection than antibodies from getting the virus previously, Lauzardo said. Vaccines come with less risk and more reward, even though a combination of both vaccine and natural immunity offers the lowest chance of affliction, he said.
Lauzardo compared vaccines’ current shielding ability to an umbrella in a tropical storm.
“The umbrella is going to work,” Lauzardo said, “but if it rains so hard and so much, you're going to need a raincoat.”
If vaccines are umbrellas, masks are raincoats, Lazaurdo said.
As far as which vaccine to get, attendees expressed worries about Johnson & Johnson’s single shot due to its potential blood clotting effects. However, Lauzardo said Johnson & Johnson is just as safe as Moderna’s and Pfizer’s vaccines — except for women in their childbearing years.
He explained that even though the risk level is extremely low, close to seven per million, women in their childbearing years have a risk of severe blood clotting when taking the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Lauzardo recommended women between the ages of 18 and 50 choose Pfizer or Moderna.
As effective as vaccines are, they do not completely prevent contracting COVID-19, Lazaurdo said. However, he still advocated heavily for their use. Citing a recent hospital census, he said out of those currently hospitalized for COVID-19, about 92% had not been vaccinated.
For the small percentage of fully vaccinated COVID-19 patients, Lauzardo said they “are immunosuppressed individuals” who would have been in worse condition had they not taken preventative measures.
“The amount of protection that is given to you by the vaccine is far worth it and it reduces serious illness, death, and ongoing transmission,” Lauzardo said.
All the benefits of getting the vaccine does not mean that people should stop wearing masks, Lauzardo said. All masks, to some degree, prevent the particles that transmit the virus from escaping into the air, he said.
Even as the Delta variant strengthens its hold in Florida, masks protect just the same, he said. Virus particles are not getting smaller, as some internet myths claim.
Lauzardo addressed other COVID-19 myths too, reassuring attendees that vaccines do not change DNA, that no one has died from a vaccine and that vaccines are not being contaminated in any way.
Despite myths and misinformation, Lauzardo remains positive that the solution is near.
“We have the tools,” Lauzardo said. “This is very different than the conversation that I had last August where we didn't know if vaccines were one, two or three years down the road.”
Contact Max Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @MTaylor_Journ.
Max is a first year journalism major. In the past, she worked as the Editor-in-Chief of her high school's yearbook, and she is now a News Desk Assistant for The Alligator. When she isn't reporting, Max enjoys reading and rock music.