Gov. Ron DeSantis announced in a press conference this morning that four UF students have tested positive for COVID-19.
Following this, he said state officials are now recommending to the Florida Board of Governors that all Florida universities transition to remote learning for the rest of the semester and that the system is “fully capable” of doing so.
He announced that as of this morning, Florida has 192 cases of the virus –– 173 of which are Florida residents. Alachua County has not had community spread, according to the Alachua County Department of Health administrator Paul Myers. Alachua County has reported six positive cases of the coronavirus as of Tuesday afternoon.
The newest cases as of today are a 21-year-old female Florida resident and a 22-year-old male Florida resident, according to a daily report from the state health department.
However, The Florida Department of Health’s interactive dashboard shows that there are a total of four cases in Alachua County: two men and two women whose ages range from 21-64.
The governor also announced the suspension of all bars and nightclubs for the next 30 days, effective today at 5 p.m, and said the state will also enforce the U.S Center of Disease Control rule of restricting groups of 10 or more people on beaches statewide.
However, he said this decision will remain up to the localities, as not all Florida beaches have masses of people for spring break.
“We have a number of counties that have not had a single case,” he said, “and so I feel that this makes the most sense.”
UF President Kent Fuchs confirmed that four students have the virus and announced via email that class at UF will remain online for the rest of the semester, per DeSantis’ recommendation.
UF announced via their COVID-19 updates page that two of the students returned to Gainesville from domestic travel, one returned to Gainesville from international travel and one came in close contact with the infected student. The website confirms that the three students who traveled were tested and quarantined, but does not specify for the student who came in contact with an infected student.
According to the website, none of the students have been hospitalized.
The Gainesville Sun reported that a UF College of Dentistry student who tested positive for COVID-19 had treated patients in the school’s clinic and traveled to Portugal over spring break.
The Alligator asked UF spokesperson Steve Orlando several times if UF had cases of COVID-19 when the 24-year-old positive case in Alachua County was announced. Despite UF providing details on all the positive cases Tuesday, days ago, Orlando said UF wouldn’t make any announcements, the health department would.
Other universities have been transparent about students who were infected and notified them, including Northwestern, Harvard and others.
Fuchs wrote that all students who are still in Gainesville should return back to their hometowns if possible, and encouraged all employees to work from home.
He also urged students and faculty to continue practicing social distancing in their social, academic and work lives.
UF’s Summer A and C terms will also be moved online, UF spokesperson Steve Orlando confirmed Tuesday evening.
Summer B Freshman will still join campus, Orlando said. However, the university will be reevaluating things as the time comes closer.
Alachua County residents volunteer to protect high-risk groups
Melissa Kendall may not be rich, but she has enough to lend a helping hand.
The 41-year-old Micanopy resident is one of several Alachua County residents who have offered to provide supplies or services to older adults and those with chronic medical conditions.
Those with chronic medical conditions are more likely to become gravely ill if they contract COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Communities like Gainesville rely very heavily on this kind of community conscience and its willingness to help out others and less fortunate people,” Kendall said.
Kendall wrote on Reddit that she is open to picking up and dropping off items for people confined in their homes.
Kendall, who was recently hired to work at the soon-to-open franchise REI Gainesville, an outdoor gear store, said her friends and family have come to her aid in tough financial and emotional times.
“I feel that that kind of has to pass on because people have helped me out when I've needed it,” she said.
Although she isn’t too worried about the health of her 12-year-old son, she does have elderly parents, including her mother who works in the healthcare industry.
“Especially in Florida, with an aging population, everybody has to know somebody that would fit into the category of elderly or even immunocompromised,” she said.
Still, she believes staying optimistic and listening to the concerns of neighbors will help.
Manny Quiros, a 25-year-old UF telecommunication senior, said he is not considered high risk. He offered on Reddit’s ‘GNV’ thread to assist with groceries, prescription pick-ups and other errands for those who are.
However, he said he was concerned that others his age were not as willing to take precautions.
“They’re packing the bars, hosting coronavirus-themed parties and showing a general disregard for the demographics that can be affected by it,” he said.
Quiros is especially worried for his immunocompromised mother, who is a cancer survivor and has faced many health issues such as fibromyalgia and hyperthyroidism.
He said his parents were recently in Holland for their 30th wedding anniversary, but now, they’re rushing to travel back to the United States from the United Kingdom before President Trump’s Europe travel ban takes effect. Still, he’s concerned that his parents may become exposed to the disease at the airport.
Quiros hopes that students heed UF’s advice to practice social distancing, which means to physically stay 6 to 10 feet away from another person to avoid possible contact with the virus.
“People need to realize that going to bars, parties and places with large crowds is only going to make this situation worse,” he said.
Commencement will not be held in May
UF’s graduation ceremonies will not happen at the end of April and beginning of May, as previously planned.
Today, the Florida State University System announced that on-campus commencement ceremonies will not be held this spring, according to the UF COVID-19 updates page, despite the university saying earlier today that there was no decision on commencement yet.
Instead, state universities across Florida are being asked to “develop an alternative schedule or method of delivery.”
UF has not released their plan for commencement yet.
Gainesville’s Newk’s Eatery is temporarily closed after a worker showed symptoms related to COVID-19, a spokesperson said.
But while the initial release said there was a “reported case” of COVID-19, a spokesperson confirmed in an email that the affected individual has not been tested for COVID-19.
The spokesperson wrote in an email that the restaurant, located at 4041 Plaza Boulevard, will likely remain closed for the next 13 days. In addition to its standard cleaning procedures, Newk’s has increased its required glove changing, deep cleaning and sanitization of high-touch areas.
All employees who were working with the individual will self-quarantining for 14 days, according to the email.
“We have immediately activated our protocols in order to further prevent the spread of coronavirus and are following all recommended guidelines from the CDC,” wrote Newk’s co-founder and CEO Chris Newcomb in this morning’s release.
The spokeswoman said the individual worked in the back of the restaurant on March 9, 11 and 12 and had no contact with customers.
All other Newk’s locations remain open and will follow it’s updated protocol.
Accent postponing Spring speakers
Accent Speakers Bureau announced that all future shows have been postponed indefinitely to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This includes speakers like former presidential primary candidate Andrew Yang and YouTuber and comedian Cody Ko.
“We hope to get back to providing programming to enrich, educate, and engage the student experience as soon as we are all safe to do so,” the post read.
Actor and comedian Rob Riggle, Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy and YouTuber Noel Miller were also scheduled to speak in the Spring Speakers Series and have been postponed to a later date, according to the post.
Henry Fair, the Accent Speakers Bureau Chairman, could not be reached for comment.
UF Performing Arts also issued a statement saying that all events at The Phillips Center, University Auditorium, Baughman Center and Squitieri Studio Theatre are canceled or postponed until at least March 30.
Accent’s Spring Speakers Series is free for students, so no refunds will be issued for the canceled productions. Ticket holders to other UF Performing Arts events can receive a refund for canceled shows, according to the Performing Arts website.
Jacob Harrison, a 22-year-old UF information systems senior, said he was especially excited to see Ko and disappointed that the show has been postponed. He’s been a fan for years and said he relates to Ko’s dark sense of humor.
Still, Harrison said he understands why the series was postponed and thinks it was necessary to do so.
“I just really hope that they're going to work on rescheduling,” He said. “They had a really good speaker series lineup this semester.”
The decision to postpone complies with the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to limit large gatherings to no more than 250 people in places with a moderate amount of “community transmission.”
Students who live on campus shouldn’t worry about their living arrangements for now.
UF spokesperson Steve Orlando said students are not required to move out of dorms and that no dorms are closing as of this afternoon.
It is unknown if students will get a refund for their meal plans.
Fuchs is encouraging students to go home, as per his email this morning.
Collegeboard, SAT and ACT testing
Coronavirus is forcing standardized testing to reorganize.
With schools closing temporarily to prevent the virus from spreading, the SAT and ACT are adapting to their test-takers. After many local test centers did not test Saturday,the College Board announced the May 2 SAT would not be administered.ACT also announced its April 4 test date has been rescheduled to June 13 nationally.
Sixty-one test centers were closed in Florida for the March 14 SAT as of Saturday evening, including one in Gainesville at UF. The makeup exam on March 28 is also canceled, and additional information will be shared in the coming days, according to the College Board.
Students who thought it was unsafe to take March’s SAT or were registered for May’s exam are being offered a full refund. Their registration to a future test date is free, said a College Board spokesperson who could not give his full name due to company policy.
Advanced Placement (AP) makeup testing dates for schools closed in March or April will depend on how much instructional time was lost, with testing dates possibly extending through May and into June if requested through AP services,College Board’s website reads.
Resources to aid student learning during school closures and a solution that would allow students to test at home are being developed, withadditional information to be posted by March 20.
“It’s the discretion of the school… whether it is safe for the student to take the examination on the given date or not,” the spokesperson said.
Since April 4 testing has been rescheduled, ACT will notify students impacted directly and give instructions for free rescheduling, according to their website.
ACT is closely monitoring the situation, and its top priority is the safety of its test-takers and staff, ACT spokesperson Ed Colby wrote in an email.
“This is a rapidly evolving situation,” Colby wrote.
Macy MacElderry, a 17-year-old Gainesville High School junior, said she took the SAT already but has friends that were upset when it was canceled last weekend. She said she feels bad for them because they wanted to get the test over with.
MacElderry is also concerned for her AP exams. She said having less time to learn in school now that classes have been canceled has her feeling stressed.
Student test scores might be affected if they are not given more time, but people are generally happy to have more time off school and the choice still makes sense, she said.
“It was probably the best decision just so if the outbreak gets worse, people won’t freak out about them not doing anything to prevent the virus more,” she said.
When classes were canceled because of Hurricane Irma last year, an extra two minutes were added to school days, MacElderry said. She said she thinks there will be a similar solution this year.
“They’re just doing this as a precaution to please the public, and it’ll be over soon,” MacElderry said.
Petition starts to make classes pass or fail
A petition to give students the option to make their classes pass or fail this semester has reached 9,962 signatures of its 10,000 signature goal.
The petition was first shared to Change.org earlier today. The petition lists change of time zones, stress and student health as some of the reasons why UF administration should give students the option to choose how their classes will be graded.
When asked earlier today, UF spokesperson Steve Orlando said there was no plan to make courses pass or fail for the semester.
Full tuition refund if UF cancels classes
Students should receive a full tuition and registration fee refund if UF cancels classes, according to UF regulation 3.0371. Whether or not students must repay their federal financial aid depends on when classes are canceled.
It is unclear if “registration fees” include all fees, like the activity and service, athletic, health, technology and transportation fees, which amount to about $57 per credit hour for undergraduate students.
Because students are considered to have received 100 percent of their federal aid if they complete more than 60 percent of the semester, they will not be required to repay any federal funding if classes are canceled after 60 percent of the semester is complete, according to the UF Registrar.
However, the university will return any remaining funds to the U.S. Department of Education, according to the registrar. If classes are canceled before 60 percent is complete, students may be required to repay a portion of their federal financial aid, according to the registrar.
It is unclear what the university considers to be the 60 percent mark, as it may or may not account for weekends, holidays, breaks and reading days.
Summer semesters to be entirely online
UF is the first Florida public university to announce the move to online for summer classes.
Summer semester A through C at UF will be entirely online. Orlando confirmed this development, which came hours after President Fuchs announced classes for the Spring would remain online for the remainder of the semester.
Summer A begins May 11 and ends June 19. Summer C starts the same day as Summer A, but ends later in the summer, on Aug. 7. Summer B begins June 29, a week later than the end of Summer A, and ends Aug. 7 as well.
Currently, incoming freshmen set to begin classes in Summer B will still be on campus. Orlando wrote in a text message that this would be re-evaluated as that date gets closer.
Provost’s response to GAU: ‘You are employees, so continue as planned.’
Graduate Assistants United sent the UF Office of the Provost an exhaustive list of questions to help clarify recent changes brought about by the spread of COVID-19. The provost’s responses were brief.
GAU, a labor union, published the correspondence in a press release Tuesday, calling the university’s responses disconcertingly brief. It demanded that research assistants be allowed to work remotely and asked for assurance that graduate and family housing will remain open for graduate assistants.
In its letter to the Provost’s office, the union asked about resources for assistants who are unable to perform their duties remotely. UF’s chief bargainer Bill Connellan’s reply was brief:
“You are employees, so continue as planned,” he wrote.
The union also asked if assistants will be protected from penalty if they are unable to complete their duties due to a lack of resources.
“Deal with it at the appropriate time,” Connellan responded.
Boby Mermer, co-president of GAU and a 32-year-old UF political science graduate candidate, called the responses flippant and disrespectful and said he doesn’t believe their requests were taken seriously.
There are certain things Mermer said he finds disturbing, like the lack of a guarantee that graduate housing will remain open. Harvard University evacuated its dorms, and Mermer said he fears UF may do the same.
“We have international students who have nowhere else to go,” he said. “It’s a very serious concern and there’s a lot of anxiety over it.
Connellan declined to answer GAU’s questions regarding the future of UF employees not covered by a collective bargaining agreement, such as food service workers. He also did not answer whether or not parking restrictions would be lifted as concerns about public transportation rise.
The GAU will seek legal recourse to ensure the safety of its students, Mermer said.
The Office of the Provost could not be reached for comment.
Alex De Luca, Kyle Wood, Alyssa Feliciano, Christian Ortega, Hannah Phillips, Samantha Chery, AJ Bafer and Stephany Matat contributed to this report.
This is a breaking story. Check back for updates.
Clarification: This story has been updated to reflect that Summer A and C terms will be moved online, and Summer B will tentatively still join campus.