COVID-19 dominated the Thursday agenda of the University of Florida Board of Trustees meeting.
The board presented its plan to reopen the university in the fall during the first half of the meeting. On Friday, the board voted to approve the recently outlined plan. Logistics, however, are still subject to change before the plan’s submission to the Board of Governors for review and approval on June 12.
A day before, the board meeting began with a word from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who spoke over the phone about the importance of UF reopening in the fall.
DeSantis plans on the country being in the third phase of reopening by August 1 and believes that UF students and faculty should be prepared to come back for the fall semester.
“But if you throw in the towel and say people aren’t coming back, it’s going to be very hard to turn it on August 1,” he said.
Board Chairman Mori Hosseini agreed.
“The University of Florida is going forward,” he said. Although, the plan to reopen is not set in stone. It will likely change as circumstances unfold, he said.
President Kent Fuchs outlined the expertise-led path forward.
“Everything we’ve done has been guided by, has been branded by and has been led by our health experts, UF Health,” he said.
Fuchs said the university’s plan for reopening has been modeled after the Florida Board of Governors’ blueprint for reopening.
“We’re going to live with COVID all summer long, and probably all fall,” said Dr. David R. Nelson, University of Florida Senior Vice President of UF Health. “So all the things we’re going to talk about have to start with the premise ‘We will have students and faculty employees on our campus who have COVID, and how do we protect other people around them?’”
Despite the dangers that come with reopening a university during a pandemic, Nelson said deaths in the state of Florida are dramatically decreasing, allowing hospitals to have more capacity and to be prepared for a possible rise in cases that require hospitalizations.
“Every single student is going to go through a screening test,” Nelson said.
This test will be online and will look to see if students have symptoms or are high-risk to be asymptomatic carriers. UF employees are currently going through the screening and testing process.
If the screening test determines that you show symptoms or are at a high-risk of being asymptomatic, you’ll get a telehealth examination and from there it will be determined whether or not you need to be tested for COVID-19, according to Nelson.
Nelson also said all students who are entering a clinical setting that will be directly interacting with patients in a clinical or research role will be required to be tested for the coronavirus.
“We’re going to offer testing to any other students who feel concerned and want to be tested,” Nelson said. “If there’s a large number of students, we’re going to prioritize and phase their entry based on hotspots around the state.”
While every student is not going to be tested, random samples will be taken throughout campus, according to Nelson. Some of these samples will include sampling wastewater from dorms.
“We’re going to try to figure out which dorms now have a positive spike, and then we can go in and offer every student a test,” Nelson said.
According to the current draft, facemask and social distancing requirements will be guided by CDC and UF Health protocols. However, students should expect requirements for both to be in place.
Due to social distancing guidelines for class sizes, what time they will be offered and whether they will be in-person, hybrid or online are subject to change. Students should be prepared to adjust their schedules, Provost Dr. Joe Glover said.
Glover said faculty should also set up their courses so that students will not be required to return to campus after the Thanksgiving break for coursework.
When it comes to athletics, Athletic Director Scott Stricklin has added COVID-19 testing as a part of the required physical examinations for athletes.
The SEC has allowed athletes to return for voluntary workouts starting on June 18.
“In the month of June, we’re going to focus on allowing the athletes in our fall team competition sports… we’re going to focus on those three sports athletes being able to come in and use their facilities… on a voluntary basis,” Stricklin said.
Depending on the success of this process, athletes will be phased back into workouts in July and August, he said.
“We are preparing as though we will play athletic events as scheduled in the 2021 school year,” Stricklin said. “We are going to accommodate as many fans as UF Health, the state Department of Health and others deem appropriate.”