UF coronavirus: classes required to move online; Shands hospital has first coronavirus case

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CDC coronavirus

Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)

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. 

In light of growing concerns from the spread of coronavirus, UF Shands confirmed that it’s treating its first patient with coronavirus. UF is also moving its classes online by Monday.

The patient at Shands, an individual from Georgia, was transferred to the hospital from another, UF Health spokesperson Ken Garcia wrote in an email late this afternoon. The Georgia Department of Public Health is leading the investigation, he wrote. Garcia said there is no testing for coronavirus happening at Shands because it is not a testing facility.

Garcia declined to say whether this is the same person who tested positive for coronavirus in Alachua County Tuesday evening. 

UF announced today that it will move classes fully online by Monday due to the spread of coronavirus.

UF Associate Provost W. Andrew McCollough wrote in an email to faculty members today that UF is transitioning all of its on-campus classes to be fully online by Monday. UF President Kent Fuchs wrote in an email this afternoon that classes will remain online until at least March 30.

“It is important to note this move is no longer optional,” McCollough wrote.

The State University System of Florida is asking all Florida universities to switch to remote instruction as soon as possible and encourages students who live on campus to return home for at least two weeks.

UF spokesperson Steve Orlando said UF is encouraging all students to return home. Students who live on campus are welcome to stay at their housing facility if they want to.

UF encourages large events and meetings to be held online, and more notice will come for university athletics and performing arts, UF President Kent Fuchs wrote today in an email to students.

Campus will remain open and fully operational, Fuchs wrote. UF encourages large events and meetings to consider holding them online, and more notice will come in about university athletics and performing arts.

“These are extraordinary and uncertain times,” Fuchs wrote in today’s email. “I encourage all of us to look out for each other as we take care of ourselves.”

This morning, UF’s Student Health Care Center started screening patients who are experiencing flu-like symptoms, such as coughing, fevers or shortness of breath, Orlando said. The protocol follows guidelines from the Florida Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

infirmary sick

A UF student leaves the infirmary building after getting her flu medication on Wednesday. She said her visit was unrelated to the coronavirus, and she was wearing a mask when she came. UF’s Student Health Care Center started screening patients experiencing flu-like symptoms today, such as coughing, fevers or shortness of breath.

Orlando said he is unsure how many students were sent into the center’s designated area today, but students were only kept there for a quick checkup and no student remains quarantined. 

These screenings come less than one day after Alachua County confirmed its first case of the virus and only a few hours after the World Health Organization officially characterized it as a pandemic. 

As of Wednesday afternoon, 21 Florida residents and two non-Florida residents were tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Florida Department of Health. One of the non-Florida residents is a 68-year-old Georgia woman who tested positive for coronavirus in Alachua County on Tuesday evening, said Paul Myers, administrator for the county’s health department.

UF Health spokesperson Ken Garcia said Tuesday that UF Health Shands Hospital will not have any coronavirus testing because it is not a testing facility.

Here’s the latest on coronavirus in Alachua County:

Facts about the county’s current case

Multiple people are being tested for the coronavirus in Alachua County, local officials said in a press conference today. They would not give details on how many people are being tested, but said there is no shortage of lab tests. 

The 68-year-old woman from Georgia who tested positive is under quarantine in the county, Myers said at today’s conference. Those who came in contact with her are also under quarantine. 

“There were a number of people who were exposed,” he said. “I’m very confident that we have identified most, if not all of them.”

The Georgia Department of Public Health is trying to determine where the woman with coronavirus contracted the disease, along with where she traveled before coming to Florida, Myers said. 

“I know where she went in Alachua County, and I know who her contacts are,” he said. “So the risk to this community is very low.”

He would not say where she went in Alachua County for the sake of patient privacy. 

While the county is continuing to focus on identifying and containing the virus, Myers said they’re now trying to prevent it from spreading. This involves personal hygiene like washing hands and staying home when sick. 

“These are all very important considerations to buy us time,” he said. “We have to buy time in order for a vaccine to be developed.” 

The hardships of online classes 

The mandatory move to go fully online works for traditional classes, but some UF professors are trying to find ways to teach classes that don’t work well with online delivery, such as scientific labs that need hands-on instruction. 

“This is an unprecedented situation,” Orlando said. “In cases like that, people are finding ways to be creative and innovative and make things work.”

Even though UF is fully online until the end of March, advance registration for Summer and Fall begin on March 23. Orlando said he was unsure of how advising sessions would be done, but classes scheduled in the Summer and Fall are still planned in its traditional format.

Professor Anna Calluori Holcombe, who teaches ceramics, said taking classes online will not give students the same hands-on experience with clay.

However, she said she still plans to deliver the technical and conceptual information that students would have learned in her class anyway. 

Holcombe said she worries about using Canvas because of its tendency to crash when she’s used it minimally for her classes. She said more time to adapt to online delivery would have been helpful. 

“Compared to some of my colleagues at other universities, I feel we haven’t been given enough preparation, or resources for that matter,” she said.

Leslie Odom, associate professor of oboe and music theory, said that while she’s “ready to go” with online instruction and plans to teach oboe lessons over Skype, she expects there will be difficulties because of lag times and a decreased sound quality. 

“We got to do what we got to do,” she said. 

Odom said she’s worried about how ensemble classes will function and how students will have individual recitals that they need for their degrees. 

While he acknowledges that the transition will be difficult, Dylan Probert, a 21-year-old UF theatre senior, said he thinks the move to online classes is “for the best” because he said he thinks it is more important to look out for the health of everyone. 

He said he still thinks he’ll get something out of his acting classes, even if they’re online — but he doesn’t know if his instruction will be the same. 

He hopes that people will be patient with the UF School of Theatre and Dance.

“Some people, I fear, might be very hard on the school and think some of the choices they decide to make going online might be crazy,” he said, “But I think they don’t have much of a choice.”

UF exposure to COVID-19

UF has not reported any coronavirus cases from the university community, but it is not permitting those who have traveled to highly affected areas — such as China, South Korea, Italy, Iran or Japan — to go on campus. However, UF students have still been exposed to the virus.

From March 1-3, about 60 UF students attended the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in Washington, D.C.  Five attendees later tested positive for the virus. As of Sunday, UF Spokesperson Steve Orlando said there was no procedure currently in place for the students because the CDC did not have restrictions for domestic travel. 

These students aren’t required to quarantine, he added Sunday. 

While there are no limits to domestic travel because the CDC has not put out any guidelines, students who have been exposed should still self-monitor and get checked out if any symptoms appear, Orlando said Wednesday.  

Students also attended the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting (NICAR), a journalism conference, in New Orleans, where at least one attendee has tested positive for coronavirus. UF students and faculty who attended this conference over Spring Break are monitoring themselves for symptoms but have not been required to self-quarantine, according to Mindy McAdams, a journalism professor who supervised the trip. 

“We still asked them not to come to class,” McAdams said. “We left on Sunday, so we won’t be sure until 14 days is up.”

Doug Haddix, the executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors and NICAR, said 16 people from UF registered to attend the conference. He could not give the names of the attendees and said no one else has tested positive for the virus. 

Two Alligator staff writers attended the conference and are self-quarantining, said Christina Morales, The Alligator’s editor-in-chief.

At least seven UF students went to another conference attended by someone who tested positive for the virus. The students have not been asked to quarantine, according to one who attended. 

The person who tested positive for the virus was not in the same room as UF students at The Conservative Political Action Conference, the student said. No one who also attended the conference has shown any symptoms, the attendee said.

Sanitizer, soap and safety: Campus changes at UF

The State University System of Florida is asking all Florida universities to accomodate on-campus students who need assistance and cannot return home.

For those who don’t leave, UF is stepping up sanitary procedures. The email sent Friday said UF will install several hundred hand sanitizer dispensers on campus and put more bottles on instructors’ desks. 

hand sanitzer

"Students sanitize their hands after voting early in the 2020 Presidential Preference Primary and City of Gainesville Regular Election." 

UF is in the process of installing the dispensers now, and this should be done by the end of the week, Orlando said. 

The university’s housing division implemented precautionary measures as well, according to the email statement. High-touch surfaces such as door handles, handrails, water fountains, tables and chairs will be wiped down daily.

New and stronger disinfectants will be used, along with more frequent and vigorous cleaning, Orlando said.

Gator Dining sent an email Tuesday informing students that employees are washing their hands every 15 minutes, changing out utensils every 20 minutes, sanitizing high-touch areas every 30 minutes and discontinuing the use of reusable beverage cups.

Fuchs said in an email that despite encouraging students to go home, campus resources such as the dining halls will remain open.

But changes aren’t just taking place in Gainesville. UF has canceled all study abroad programs to China, Iran, Italy and South Korea for this Summer. Japan is still under review and no other programs have been affected as of Wednesday afternoon. Approximately 400 students are affected by the program cancellations this summer, Orlando said. 

Sports events to be held without fans

NCAA President Mark Emmert made an announcement on Twitter instructing the NCAA and conference tournaments to be played without fans just after 4:30 p.m. today.

“I have made the decision to conduct our upcoming championship events, including the Division I men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, with only essential staff and limited family attendance,” the statement read.

The SEC Tournament begins tonight in Nashville at Bridgestone Arena at 7 p.m. with a game between Ole Miss and Georgia. Florida plays the winner between those two teams Thursday afternoon.

tweet from the official SEC Twitter account said, “Tonight’s SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament games will continue as regularly scheduled. We are evaluating plans for the remainder of the tournament.”

The annual NCAA Men’s Tournament begins next Tuesday with the First Four play-in games. The field is picked this Sunday as part of the Selection Sunday show.

March Madness is one of the biggest sporting events in the world, and Emmert’s announcement clarified conflicting responses across states where the tournament is played.

The SEC Tournament in Nashville was, as of this morning, going on as planned despite nearby Vanderbilt University’s exposure to the coronavirus with at least one confirmed case. Conflicting statements from the governing body of college athletics and the SEC have now muddled that.

Vanderbilt has suspended in-person class and is located just a few miles from the site of the conference tournament.

SEC officials emailed credentialed media members with changes regarding the men’s tournament, including access to locker rooms and cleaning policies. Locker rooms will be closed to the media, and press conferences will be conducted in press conference rooms with coaches and student-athletes.

Sanitization precautions such as using hospital grade disinfectant on the balls, team benches, band and cheerleading seating areas and in locker rooms have also been put in place.

The Ivy League was the first Division I conference to suspend its conference tournament, electing to send its regular-season winner for the men’s and women’s teams to represent the league.

UF is projected by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi to be playing in Cleveland in the Round of 64. Ohio Governor Mark DeWine announced that large gatherings would be prohibited in the state. Emmert’s decision ensures that applies to all states.

An email from UF President Kent Fuchs said, “The University Athletic Association will issue separate communications regarding athletic events.”

What’s next for campus events?

Tickets will still be distributed Thursday between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. for Andrew Yang’s event, which is scheduled for March 16, said Accent Speakers Bureau Chairman Henry Fair. He said the event with Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy is also still planned with no changes. 

But in the email Fuchs sent Wednesday afternoon, he recommended that large meetings and events be held online, postponed or canceled. He also said that the University Athletic Association and UF Performing Arts will release their own statements regarding events. 

“I hope it happens, but obviously like we want to keep everyone safe,” Fair said. “That’s the university’s priority.”

Yang, a former Democratic presidential primary candidate, is scheduled to speak at UF on March 16 at 8 p.m., and Portnoy is scheduled to speak on April 1. 

Yang is being paid $50,000 to come to UF and Portnoy is being paid $45,000. These payments include roundtrip flights, hotels, meals and transportation. 

Accent will follow instructions from university administration, Fair said. He did not answer further questions about if the events would be canceled or altered with the university moving classes fully online.

Connor Bennet, Dance Marathon’s executive director, wrote in a Facebook statement Tuesday that the event is planned to operate as usual. When asked about Dance Marathons’ plans regarding coronavirus, including if children will still be brought to the marathon, Bennet referred an Alligator reporter to the Facebook statement.  

The event will have extra sanitation measures such as signs that direct participants to hand-washing stations, gloves and a “fully staffed Medical Room, where UF Health medical professionals will be available for the entirety of the event,” he wrote.

He said that the program will make any accommodations the University of Florida, UF Health, and Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals administrations “deem necessary” in the post. 

“We are aware of the concerns that this virus has brought up, and we want to assure you that we are taking precautions to ensure the health and safety of those coming to participate in our event,” he wrote. 

Commencement is still going forward with its current schedule, Orlando said. UF announced in Friday’s email that it is prepared to modify plans if necessary.

Student Government Senate meetings will continue in person but that may change, Senate President Kyle Garner wrote in a text message Tuesday. 

“We are actively monitoring the University’s guidelines and requirements regarding COVID-19,” Garner wrote. “We will be working with our Advisor and processing options before our meeting next Tuesday.” 

When asked how Student Government plans to handle classes transitioning online and potential campus closures, Student Body President Michael Murphy wrote in a text that he is meeting with university administration. 

“We are actively working to prioritize student health and safety for the remainder of the academic year,” he wrote. 

WHO’s advice to prevent getting the virus includes washing hands frequently, maintaining distance with those who are sick, avoiding touching your face, practicing respiratory hygiene and seeking medical attention if you have flu-like symptoms, such as a fever, cough or difficulty breathing.

“This is all about the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff,” Orlando said. “That’s the bottom line.”

This is a breaking news story. Check back for updates. 

Hannah Phillips, Chastity Maynard, Meghan McGlone, Kaelyn Cassidy, Kyle Wood, Alex De Luca, Hope Dean, Stephany Matat and Alyssa Feliciano contributed to this report.