Editor's Note: If you think you might have COVID-19, contact the Alachua County Health Department at (352) 334-7900 or the Student Health Care Center at (352) 392-1161.
The number of positive COVID-19 cases in Alachua County has risen to 15, according to the Florida Department of Health.
The four latest cases are all Florida residents -- a 29-year-old female, a 68-year-old female, a 47-year-old female and a 22-year-old male, according to a daily report from the department. Their travel histories aren’t listed.
Paul Myers, administrator for the county department of health, said he has no indication of community spread at this time. However, he said “it’s reasonable to expect that will change.”
As of this morning, the total number of positive cases in the state is 520 -- 474 of which are Florida residents, according to the daily report.
In a county press release, Alachua County’s 12th case is identified as a daycare center employee.
As a result, the center is temporarily closed for “thorough disinfection”, and any person exposed has been identified and quarantined.
O2B kids announced in a Facebook post Thursday evening that a worker at their Hunters Crossing location at 4929 NW 43rd St. has tested presumptive positive for the virus. As a result, the location is closed today and will remain closed into next week.
In the post, they also clarified that their other three locations -- on Archer Road, in Midtown and near W Newberry Road -- will remain open.
“We have been asked by many parents, businesses, health professionals and child care agencies to remain open as child care centers are an essential component in our community’s response to this unprecedented crisis,” the post read.
Another local childcare center has also temporarily closed its doors.
Yesterday, Cuddly Kids Academy sent a letter to parents informing them of a child who arrived at the center with a fever yesterday and is now awaiting COVID-19 test results. The center will be closed until next week, the letter read.
“If the test results are positive (presence of the Coronavirus), be assured that we will strictly follow all guidelines as prescribed by the Center for Disease Control and the Florida Department of Health and other regulatory agencies, as appropriate,” the letter read.
Some UF refunds
UF announced that it is developing plans to issue some refunds, according to the university’s website.
The university is currently developing plans for issuing refunds, rebates or credits to students who may no longer be able to use their dorm and dining plan contracts.
Governor orders closure of all restaurant dining rooms
In a press conference Friday afternoon, Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered all Florida restaurants to close their dine-in services and move to take-out only.
The establishments will still be allowed to continue providing delivery or take-out services, said DeSantis, who also lifted a restriction that previously prohibited restaurants from selling alcohol to-go.
Following this, the governor ordered the closure of all workout facilities and fitness centers across the state. He said this doesn’t apply to fitness centers in hotels and residential buildings that have a capacity of 10 people or fewer.
RecSports close fitness centers after executive order
UF Public Affairs announced today that all campus recreation and fitness centers, including Southwest Recreation Center, are closed until further notice.
The announcement comes as a result of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order No. 20-71 that orders all gymnasiums and fitness centers in the state to be closed in order to limit possible infection to COVID-19.
Earlier this week, Southwest adjusted its hours but remained open after all Spring classes were announced to be fully online. Southwest declined to comment when The Alligator contacted the center via phone call.
But other Florida universities closed their gyms before the executive order was implemented Friday. These include, Florida State University, University of Central Florida, Florida Gulf Coast University, the University of South Florida and Florida Atlantic University.
Southwest employee Jarrett Repasky wrote an email early this morning to UF President Kent Fuchs and Vice President of Student Affairs D’Andra Mull. Repasky forwarded that email to The Alligator.
Repasky raised concerns for his safety and the safety of his coworkers. He asked that Fuchs immediately shut down all RecSports training facilities and that workers be given 14 paid sick days.
He also wrote that he’d like students to have the option to work from home before the executive order was announced. Repasky wrote that this option was given to RecSports employees who were not students in a staff meeting on Thursday.
Repasky also stressed that he and other low-income students were being put in a difficult situation. He is a student employee who can’t return home because he doesn’t want to infect his family if he had been exposed to COVID-19, and he can’t financially support himself without his job if he wanted to stay in Gainesville.
“We’re stuck in the most marginalized intersectionality of students who should be returning home but can't return home,” Repasky said.
The communication in recent weeks between student affairs and the staff at Southwest has not been ideal either, Repasky said.
“There's been professional staff meetings, and with all of our different program areas, there's been little to no communication about the subject until after things that happen to the facility,” he said. “For example, the weight room closing, we did not know what's going to happen until our director came in and closed it."
Repasky is referring to the weight room at Southwest being closed earlier in the week in order to limit exposure and the director mentioned is Interim Associate Vice President & Senior Director For Recreation And Health Promotion Services David Bowles.
Bowles was not available when The Alligator contacted his office for comment via phone call, according to someone who answered the phone.
Repasky said that when he asked why Southwest remained open, Mull said that it was in effort to support the Student Body.
Mull was also unavailable when The Alligator contacted her office for comment via phone call, according to someone who answered the phone.
Challenges with the 2020 U.S. Census
The ripple effects of many UF students fleeing Gainesville due to the COVID-19 outbreak may trickle down to the 2020 U.S. Census.
Sean McLendon, the strategic initiatives manager for Alachua County, is concerned the sudden dispersal of college students will hurt the accuracy of the census.
Accurate counts provide sufficient funding for schools, roads, emergency operations and recreation facilities, said Dorothy Zimmerman, a spokesperson of the Bob Graham Center for Public Service.
And as UF starts to climb it’s way up to becoming a top five public university, McLendon said, “It needs to have a top five county, a top five city and community to meet that goal.”
During the 2010 census, the county estimated that the populations of UF and Santa Fe College students were undercounted by more than 23,000 people, which resulted in an estimated loss of $390 million in federal and state funding over the last decade, Zimmerman said.
Historically, universities undercount and perform poorly on the census, Zimmerman said. That’s because college students fall under the hard-to-count population because they are typically 18 to 29-years-old, an age group that has indicated it is least likely to participate in the census, according to the Pew Research Center.
Originally, the county planned to reach UF and Santa Fe students by hosting events to encourage them to fill out the census questionnaire across the campuses. Because of the virus pandemic, the census team will now be heavily dependent on reaching out to students through social media and emails, McLendon said.
In a video posted on the Bob Graham Center Instagram account, UF President Kent Fuchs emphasizes how important it is for UF students and employees to be counted in the county’s census count.
But even with the suspension of in-person classes for the rest of the semester, UF and Santa Fe students should still be counted in the location they spend the majority of the year at, Zimmerman said.
“We’re encouraging students to think that they have the opportunity now to make an impact that will affect the university for over the next decade,” Zimmerman said.
For the next couple of weeks, students are able to respond to the census online at my2020census.gov in a process that takes less than 10 minutes, Zimmerman said. If they did not receive the 12-digit Census ID in the mail, they can choose the “do not have a Census ID” link and enter their Gainesville address, she said.
As of now, July 31 is the last day to self-report online, by mail or by phone, Zimmerman said.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to positively affect their legacy at the University of Florida,” Zimmerman said.
Digital library access
With the COVID-19 pandemic encouraging social distancing, Alachua County residents can now access the library without a library card.
The Alachua County Library District partnered with OverDrive, a company that provides apps and other tools for library patrons for digital book access, to give all residents access to 79,000 book titles and audiobooks online, said Rachel Cook, spokesperson of the Alachua County Library District.
All district libraries have closed in response to the COVID-19 outbreak and all library programs such as book clubs, story times and classes were suspended until April 30, Cook said.
Alachua County residents can use their cell phone number to sign up for digital access, Cook said. By entering a cell phone, the website verifies that the billing ZIP code associated with each phone number is within the service area.
Community members who do not own a library card can read these books free of charge until June 30, Cook said.
“We feel that it’s extremely important for people to have access to books at all times,” Cook said. “In this particular difficult time, books can be a source of comfort and entertainment and inspiration and escape.”
UF also announced today that its virtual library and its faculty and staff were available, according to an email sent to students. The majority of library services will be provided remotely, including instruction, research consultations, reference services, digital interlibrary loans and access to digital collections, including journals, books and databases.
Dentists no longer to provide non-emergency services
Dentists are now barred from carrying out non-emergency procedures and services in Alachua County.
The county commission issued an emergency order today limiting dentists and license holders from providing non-essential services to patients for at least three weeks due to COVID-19. The county department of health determined the order limits dental personnel from exposure to the virus.
The change follows the recommendations of the American Dental Association and Florida Board of Dentistry to avoid “placing more stress on hospitals and emergency rooms.”
Alex DeLuca, Valentina Botero, Allessandra Inzinna, Joseph Salvador, Grethel Aguila and Stephany Matat contributed to this report.