CDC coronavirus

Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)

Since UF is now fully online for the rest of Spring, students are now worried about their courseload and if they should go back home.

UF President Kent Fuchs urged students in an email Tuesday morning to go back home after Gov. Ron DeSantis announced four UF students tested positive for coronavirus.

UF spokesman Steve Orlando said Summer A and Summer C are fully online but Summer B is still being evaluated.

Along with this, all study abroad programs are canceled until this Summer.

Here are the latest updates with The Alligator’s coronavirus coverage:

Seventh case of coronavirus confirmed in Alachua County

Alachua County now has seven reported cases of COVID-19, the Florida Department of Health announced this afternoon.

The newest patient, a Florida resident, is a 50-year-old woman with a travel history to The Bahamas, according to the department’s daily report. As of today, the county has three non-resident and four resident cases. 

All of the county’s positive cases are travel-related, according to the report. Three of the cases have a reported travel history to New York, where the number of state cases have climbed to 2,382 today –– a jump of more than 800 since the previous day.

However, Paul Myers, administrator for the county department of health, told The Alligator that one of these cases with a travel history to New York –– the case of a 64-year-old female –– was incorrectly attributed to Alachua County. 

He said the case actually resides in Broward County, where there are a total of 80 cases as of this afternoon.  

With more private lab testing across the state, the number of cases in Florida continues to increase. As of this afternoon, the state has 289 confirmed cases of the virus and seven deaths, according to the report. 

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced in a press conference yesterday morning that four UF students had tested positive for COVID-19. 

Following this, UF president Kent Fuchs confirmed the news to students via email and announced that per DeSantis’ recommendation, class at the university will remain online for the remainder of the semester and commencement ceremonies were canceled. 

Students can petition to take classes pass or fail

UF is exploring ways for students to complete courses for pass or fail credit following the creation of an online petition.

UF made the initial announcement Wednesday and revised it hours later. The new statement offers no details as to how classes can be taken for pass or fail credit. 

Administration and faculty are “working on a process” by which undergraduate courses can be considered pass or fail, the updated statement reads. This is less specific than the earlier statement, which read:

“You will have the option to complete courses for S/U credit.”

“S/U” is the official acronym for the satisfactory or unsatisfactory grading policy, known more colloquially as the “pass, fail” grading option. Though it’s typically only an option for electives, the new announcement said it will be available with “traditional course eligibility restrictions lifted.”

An S grade is equivalent to a C or better, and a U grade is equivalent to a D or lower, according to a separate UF webpage that details the S/U option

These grades do not impact grade point averages but are reflected on students’ transcripts. Once the S/U option is approved, grades cannot revert to a letter grade, according to the webpage. 

“Other academic institutions and agencies may interpret a grade of U as a failing grade,” the webpage cautioned. 

Some things remain unclear, like the number of classes that may be taken for S/U credit. Typically, students may only elect to take one course for S/U credit per semester. 

Additionally, the new announcement did not specify who is eligible for the change. Normally, students on academic probation cannot take classes for S/U credit. 

Orlando referred The Alligator to the announcement and offered no additional comment. 

The announcement comes one day after UF students created an online petition for the option to make courses pass or fail. The petition reached more than 17,600 signatures by Wednesday afternoon.

Supporters of the option argued that taking classes pass or fail will help accommodate students who have been negatively impacted by the recent university emergency proceedings following the spread of COVID-19. 

This includes students who must attend online classes in different time zones, have insufficient resources to complete school work remotely, or are experiencing extra stress or health complications, according to the petition.  

Opponents criticized the idea in the comment section of a FaceBook post, saying they need credit from their grades to boost their GPAs. 

“Awful idea,” one commenter said. “It’s not hard, just put in the work. I’m not jeopardizing my last chance to graduate with honors because some want an easy semester.”

Libraries to close Thursday 

Adding on to a litany of other closures and cancellations due to the progression of COVID-19, George A. Smathers Libraries will close all library spaces at 6 p.m. on Thursday until further notice. 

A statement from the dean of university libraries, Judith Russell, states that the virtual library is still open, and the majority of services will still be provided remotely. 

The statement asks that UF-owned materials and media be renewed, and that students who have left campus but still have items checked out can return them when they get back. Overdue fees will be waived. 

 Firefighters and law enforcement take extra precautions

With jobs that often necessitate close contact with the public, firefighters and police officers are modifying their procedures to protect themselves and the public from the spread of coronavirus. 

The changes start when you call 911. 

The Alachua County Combined Communications Center answers all 911 calls for the county, and is managed by the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office. All fire and emergency medical services are dispatched from there, as well as the sheriff, Gainesville Police Department and High Springs Police Department. 

Callers are being screened over the phone for potential infection based on guidelines outlined by the CDC, such as flu-like symptoms or travel history, said Captain Joey Malphurs, the infection control officer for Alachua County Fire-Rescue. This is being done by dispatchers with a protocol questionnaire, said Officer Frank Kinsey, a spokesperson for Alachua County Sheriff’s Office, and includes calls that involve face-to-face contact with law enforcement. 

This information is then communicated to the responding crew or law enforcement so they are aware of the possibility of infection before arriving at the scene. 

When responding to any individual exhibiting flu-like symptoms, firefighters are wearing extra personal protective equipment, or PPE, including an isolation gown, which is a paper gown that protects your body and clothing from droplets from a cough or sneeze. Goggles and N-95 masks to protect their noses and mouths from any infected fluids are also used, Malphurs said.

“I think employees are concerned,” said Malphurs, “but we’re trying to give them good information and reassure them that if we use our personal protective equipment, like we’re supposed to, and use it on all patients that exhibit flu-like (symptoms) especially, then we’re covering ourselves.”

JoAnne Rice, deputy chief of Gainesville Fire Department, said that she’s seen a decrease in use of sick and vacation time from employees since they’ve realized the gravity of the situation. 

“We’re here as first responders and our folks are ready to respond and do our job and protect our community,” Rice said.

Deputies have been given guidelines for citizen contact, Kinsey said, which follow CDC guidelines but have been adapted to suit the specific needs of the department. These include wearing gloves when there is a possibility for human contact, attempting to maintain a distance of three-to-six feet away, to avoid remaining in someone’s home while investigating a call and wearing N-95 masks, which they are expected to use during investigations of dead bodies.

Gainesville Police Department is also following CDC guidance on interaction with the public, said public information officer, Sergeant Lisa Scott, in an email to the Alligator. 

Kinsey said that they are also reminding deputies to wash their hands, uniforms, and to wipe down their radios and leather gear. 

Roll call, which is a nightly briefing for the entire shift before they go on patrol, has been suspended to minimize contact, he said, as well as many community programs. They are also trying to make fewer physical arrests to both avoid contact and minimize the number of people in jail. 

“I think the community is concerned to be interacting with us, just as we are concerned about interacting with the community,” Kinsey said, “so these are provisions we put in place for us and for the people that we interact with.”

The precautions are also extending toward the buildings and vehicles maintained by the departments. 

On Saturday, Malphurs said that all ambulances were disinfected with an AeroClave, which creates a fog in the back of the ambulance with a chlorine-based product. The machine can also be used inside the fire station. Out of an abundance of caution, he said, trucks are also being disinfected after transporting a patient if there is any concern they may be infected. Gainesville Fire Department is following suit, Rice said . 

Kinsey said that on Tuesday, personnel from Alachua County Fire-Rescue were at the combined communications center screening any employees, guests or visitors before they were allowed into the building or the main police station. 

Both the Sheriff’s office and Gainesville Police Department are asking fewer people to come to the station to minimize contact with the public. Gainesville Police Department is limiting public access to the front lobby, Scott said.

“Please make a phone call and let us determine whether or not you actually need to come to us,” he said. “The office is still open and we’re fully functional by phone and email and internet, so please give us a call first before coming.”

Dining hall hours restricted

Gator Dining Services announced in an email sent this afternoon their new hours for their dining services.

From March 19 to 29, dining halls will have breakfast from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m., lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and dinner from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

UF Business Affairs COVID-19 updates page read that Gator Dining would still provide services from Gator Corner and the Fresh Food Company.

The two locations will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and will have an option to use their meal plan swipes, cash or credit cards at the door to grab food and then leave.

Professor was holding in-person lab option

Even though UF is fully online, a UF professor was still providing an option for in-person classes.

An anonymous student reached out to The Alligator to express concern about Justin Callaham, a lab instructor who was still planning to hold in-person labs for his class, Reproductive Physiology and Endocrinology in Domestic Animals, after UF classes moved online to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The student asked to be anonymous to protect their class identity.

The instructor provided an option for both an in-person lab and an online option, according to screenshots in an email sent by the student. 

The online option included three assignments: an interactive lab assignment, a homework assignment and a quiz covering the lab manual’s material. The in-person option included the assignments but also involved meeting in the designated on-campus farm and specified it was voluntary. 

The Alligator emailed Callaham Tuesday evening to comment and did not receive a response. Less than an hour after the email was sent, students in the class got a message announcing the in-person labs were canceled.

The anonymous student said they decided to speak out because the in-person option was inconsistent with messages from UF encouraging social isolation. They said the lab seemed like a superior option because of the material’s hands-on nature.

“We’re all trying to limit the exposure, and it just doesn't seem right for a professor to even offer a lab in person,” they said. “It just seems very irresponsible.”

About 10 people signed up for the lab before it was canceled, and it was not going to be recorded or made available online, the student said. The lab was 20 to 30 percent of students’ grade, and they said Callaham could have been more accommodating by offering makeups.

UF helping expand testing in The Villages

Gov. DeSantis announced in a press conference Wednesday afternoon that UF has been working with The Villages to expand COVID-19 testing. 

The Villages, a retirement community located about an hour south from UF, was one of the largest donors to DeSantis’ PAC in 2019. 

In Alachua County, a total of 116 people have been tested for the virus, according to a daily report from the state health department. Of these tests, 63 have been negative, 7 have been positive and 46 are still pending results.

Testing for coronavirus: what it’s like 

A UF student was exposed to COVID-19 while at a journalism conference earlier this month. Now, she’s awaiting her test results.

On Tuesday, Taylor Johnson was tested for the virus at SIMEDHealth in Gainesville after attending NICAR, a journalism conference, in New Orleans from March 4 to March 8. 

On the morning of March 8, Johnson, a 21-year-old UF journalism senior, said she woke up with a scratchy throat. Two days later, she learned that someone at the conference had tested positive for coronavirus.

Her symptoms worsened Monday, she said, to the point where it was “difficult to breathe.” So, she called the coronavirus hotline and the Florida Department of Health for help.  

“Basically (Monday) was a lot of calling around and not really getting a response,” Johnson said.

Johnson said the following morning, she received a call from the state department of health. They told her there are only two places in the city offering COVID-2019 testing: SIMEDHealth, located at 4343 W Newberry Road, and CareSpot, which has three locations on Archer Road, NW 43rd Street, and SW 2nd Avenue.

Less than 20 COIVD-19 tests have been administered at the Gainesville SIMEDHealth because patients must meet requirements set by the CDC for testing, such as symptoms of fever, cough and shortness of breath, said Kristin Roberts, vice president of support services at SIMEDHealth in Gainesville. Such as symptoms of fever, cough and shortness of breath

Roberts couldn’t confirm how many tests are available, but she said the lab is “receiving deliveries of tests as needed.”

Johnson was able to schedule an appointment within an hour of contacting SIMEDHealth, she said. When she arrived, she said an employee met her at her car, gave her a mask and walked her into the facility while making sure she didn’t touch anything.

The doctor she saw wore a plastic smock, a mask and plastic goggles, she said. 

Johnson said she was in and out of the facility in less than 15 minutes, getting tested for both the flu and COVID-19. While she immediately tested negative for the flu, she has not yet received results for her COVID-19 test as of Tuesday. 

On Wednesday, she was told her results would be available in three to four days.

Johnson is self-quarantining in Gainesville until she receives her results while her family is in Atlanta. She said she is unsure if she will return home. 

“It's been super stressful,” Johnson said. “I know emotionally stressful for me, especially being sick and everything, and I noticed emotional stress with some of my friends.”

Southwest Rec to remain open despite health concerns 

UF’s Southwest Recreation Center has adjusted its hours but still remains open to the public as concerns over COVID-19 grow.

UF spokesperson Steve Orlando said that “It’s open for now,” via text message when asked if the university was considering closing Southwest.

The student recreation & fitness center, Broward outdoor creation center, Center for Outdoor Recreation & Education (CORE), and Lake Wauburg South Shore are all closed until further notice, according to the RecSports website.  Lake Wauburg North Shore and the membership office remain open.

Within the last week, it was announced that all UF Spring and Summer A/C classes will be held online in an effort to limit possible infection to the virus, but no such cancellation has been made to school gyms.

Southwest has made multiple changes to typical day-to-day operations, however. The weight room has been closed and all intramural sports have been cancelled until further notice.

Southwest is also only allowing 49 or less people in the building at one time. Earlier this week, this precaution was being taken in the weight room before it was completely closed.

Students are usually required to enter their UFID number and place their hand on a scanner before entering Southwest. Now, Southwest employees are entering student’s information for them in an effort to limit contact.

The first and second floors of Southwest are still open and include multiple cardio machines, dumbbells and squat racks. Despite the weight room being closed, weights and barbells are still being used.

Southwest declined to comment when The Alligator contacted the center via phone call. 

Gainesville hosts telephone town hall

The City of Gainesville held a telephone town hall Wednesday evening where residents called in to have their COVID-19-related concerns clarified by city officials and a health professional.  

Mayor Lauren Poe, City Manager Lee Feldman, GRU General Manager Ed Bielarski and Dr. Lisa Chacko answered citizen’s questions about the virus and its impacts on the city via phone call. 

Feldman clarified that Gainesville does not have a curfew, but there are limited hours of operation for restaurants. He also said that as of Wednesday evening, daycare centers and places of worship citywide are also restricted to a maximum occupancy of 50 people.

To respond to the risk posed to the homeless community, the city is partnering with Grace Marketplace, a local homeless shelter and resource center, Poe said. As a result, all public bathrooms will remain open for handwashing to “flatten the curve,” or reduce the rate of infection.

Dr. Chacko urged residents to cancel non-emergency medical appointments to avoid overcrowding the healthcare system. She explained that while quarantine is currently voluntary, isolation is specifically for people who are infected.

In the coming days, Mayor Poe anticipates more changes. 

Hannah Phillips, Kaelyn Cassidy, Alex De Luca, Samia Lagmis, Stephany Matat, AJ Bafer, Joseph Salvador, and Grethel Aguila contributed to this report.