Picture of a gator statue with a mask over it's mouth

A mask is seen on the "Focused Attention" gator statue in Library West on Friday, Sept. 11, 2020. (Lauren Witte/Alligator Staff)

UF will implement mandatory COVID-19 testing in the Spring semester for students taking in-person classes along with those who live on campus, the latest act in its efforts to return to pre-COVID-19 operations. 

The plan for mandatory testing is UF’s next step in its push to return to a level of normalcy, which has been widely criticized by its faculty union. It also includes in-person graduations in April — but it’ll only take place if a vaccine is available.

Students will be tested every other week for free as they return to campus in January for the start of the Spring semester. All testing must be done through UF Health’s testing sites, Glover said. 

Testing will also be mandatory for students in sororities and fraternities who have a meal plan through their Greek house, along with students in UF’s Reserve Officer Training Corps.

The plan was announced during the Faculty Senate meeting Thursday by Provost Joseph Glover and Dr. David Nelson, UF’s senior vice president of health affairs and president of UF Health, hoping to ease faculty concerns over the return to face-to-face classes.

Students who do not get tested within 48 hours of their appointment will not be cleared for campus, Glover said. Professors can ask students to show them their Return-to-Campus status, found on their ONE.UF account, as proof. If a student refuses to be tested, it will be processed as a conduct issue with the Dean of Students’ Office.

That could result in the loss of UF privileges or potential suspension or expulsion, UF spokesman Steve Orlando wrote in an email.

Students who do not meet the conditions for mandatory testing can still obtain a COVID-19 test voluntarily, as can UF faculty and staff. Students who have tested positive for COVID-19 within a 90-day period are also exempt from mandatory testing, though will be re-enrolled in it once that period ends.

Amanda Phalin, an economics professor at UF’s Warrington School of Business, questioned whether there could be any legal challenges to the policy, though Nelson said it was cleared by UF’s General Counsel. 

UF Health’s Screen, Test, and Protect program conducted up to 2,400 COVID-19 tests a day throughout the Fall, according to the press release, though testing was never required in the Fall. 

As part of the program, UF Health will continue its contact tracing program, which aims to determine where people became infected and alert those who were exposed.

Glover said UF found no in-person transmission of COVID-19 in classrooms, giving them greater confidence in holding face-to-face classes. 

In further plans for life post-COVID-19, UF published its tentative plans for in-person graduations.

Class of 2021 graduation ceremonies, which have been in doubt, are currently set for April 28 to May 3. Make-up events for the Class of 2020 are scheduled for May 6-9, which will cater to Spring, Summer and Fall graduates, many of whom were frustrated by the lack of an in-person event despite reduced capacity at football games.

Stephanie McBride, UF’s director of commencements, said those will only occur if there is a vaccine.

Pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Moderna recently announced the results of their COVID-19 vaccine trials, finding their vaccines to be 95% and 94% effective in preventing transmission, respectively. Pfzier announced plans on Wednesday to seek emergency authorization from the Food and Drug Administration within weeks.

The university has long stated its desire to return to levels of operations similar to those before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. 

President Kent Fuchs released a video posted to UF’s social media accounts indicating the need for the university to return to a similar amount of in-person sections as last Spring in order to retain full funding.

Last Spring had almost 4,700 face-to-face classes. Spring registration is ongoing as of Thursday evening.

The in-person plan has been widely condemned by the UF’s faculty union, United Faculty of Florida-UF. In its opposition, it has organized a petition, a press conference and a protest outside Fuchs’ house.

Paul Ortiz, the chair of UFF-UF, wrote in a text message Thursday that mandatory testing is a step in the right direction.

“However, we need to follow through and reduce [face-to-face] classes in recognition of new upsurges of the virus,” Ortiz wrote.

Contact Corbin at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @CorbinBolies.

Staff Writer

Corbin is a Journalism major, with goals of ending up as a White House correspondent for the New York Times. He transferred to UF from Miami Dade College, where he served as an editor for their newspaper, The Reporter.