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Saturday, December 02, 2023

Health and safety concerns from a UF faculty member

Opinions generic
Opinions generic

UF President Kent Fuchs and the Board of Trustees have turned their backs on the UF campus community. Their decision to ban even temporary measures puts all of us at risk and it represents a fundamental failure to rise to the needs of the day.

Here are the facts that we face:

  • Even if vaccinated, we can get sick. The Centers for Disease Control estimates approximately 35,000 new symptomatic breakthrough infections in the U.S. each week among 162 million vaccinated Americans as of July. 

  • Even if vaccinated, we can transmit. Vaccinated people can spread the disease if they catch a breakthrough infection, NPR reports. 

  • We are near but not at the peak of the Delta wave of the pandemic. There’s a 28% rise in the 14-day average of daily cases and a 35% rise in hospitalizations nationwide as of Aug. 24.

  • Local ICUs are maxing out capacity. Seventy-six percent of UF Health Shands Hospital ICU beds are in use and 100% of North Florida Regional Medical Center's beds are in use.

  • The Delta wave will peak as classes resume. UF’s Emerging Pathogens Institute estimates the wave will peak in late August or early September.

Shands CEO Ed Jimenez tells us, “I don’t see an end in sight. If it’s true that we’re not peaking yet, then there’s more to come — that’s nerve-racking.” 

Given this information, the CDC recommends “layered prevention strategies, such as wearing masks, are needed to reduce the transmission of this variant.” But at UF, the top-down command is to return to normal for Fall. We will not mandate vaccines. We will not mandate tests. We will not mandate social distancing indoors. We expect masks, but we cannot require them.

The CDC recommends layers of protection, but President Fuchs and the Board of Trustees ask us to pretend the pandemic doesn’t exist.

The Board of Trustees themselves will be taking appropriate precautions. Their August meetings are being held virtually with their September meeting “TBD.” One can only surmise “TBD” depends on how things are going for you and me.

I will teach several in-person classes this semester as the pandemic rages around us, as will many other faculty members. I have children at home who are unvaccinated, as do many others. Still, other faculty have close families who are immunocompromised. President Fuchs and the Board of Trustees are heedlessly putting our families at risk.

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It doesn’t have to be this way.

The deans of UF’s largest colleges assembled a sensible plan for re-opening: allow online options for the first three weeks of classes. That extra time would have allowed for new arrivals to receive their vaccines and for the Delta wave to crest and fall. After those three weeks, colleges could reassess. When this news was communicated to the faculty, it was received with relief. President Fuchs and the Board of Trustees, however, received the news with contempt. Without sparing any time to consider, at 9 p.m. on Aug. 13, they overruled the deans. 

We know what decisive leadership looks like. 

Alachua County Public Schools Superintendent Carlee Simon is under similar pressure as UF leadership, but she had the intelligence to follow the science and the strength to lead.

Recognizing the current wave of Delta infections, she instituted a mask mandate for the first weeks of classes. As a result of her decisive leadership, as many as 16 other school districts followed suit to the benefit of the children in their communities. Each of these governing bodies took a sensible stand to protect the students they oversee.

But where is our leadership? Utterly absent. 

In place of leadership, we are thanked for our dedication. I’m tired of hand-wringing and hollow expressions of gratitude. In an email from President Fuchs, the only rationale given for our way forward is the fact no other university in the State University System is taking appropriate measures. This excuse is insufficient and it speaks to the Board of Trustees’ abdication of their responsibilities to our community and President Fuchs’ inability to lead. 

Anonymous UF faculty member 

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