Gainesville Prepares For Phase 3 Reopening

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Above: Hear a version of this story as it aired on WUFT-FM

On Wednesday, the Alachua County Commission, the Gainesville City Commission and leaders of the University of Florida met to discuss COVID-19 ordinances after Phase 3 was announced by Gov. Ron Desantis.

During the virtual joint city-county commission meeting, Dr. Michael Lauzardo, chief of the university’s Division of Infectious Diseases and Global Medicine, spoke about case statistics and the status of testing, cases and treatments at UF Health.

Lauzardo told Mayor Lauren Poe, County Commission Chair Robert “Hutch” Hutchinson and the other commissioners that despite likely having to deal with COVID-19 for many more months, UF Health is optimistic about Gainesville’s handling of the virus.

According to Lauzardo, UF Health has worked closely with Alachua County to maintain the spread of the virus and has been able to enact a strong contact-tracing program and expand its testing capabilities.

The numbers of coronavirus patients at UF Health Shands hospital are down, he said.

“The last numbers I saw were 41 patients with COVID, which is well below our maximum and well within our capability,” Lauzardo said. “Many of those patients, if not most, are transfers from out of county, largely related to a prison outbreak.”

Cases predictably increased once the UF student population began to return to the city.

Lauzardo also said that the county has not seen an increased surge in COVID cases since Labor Day. Spikes of coronavirus cases were reported around the country after the Fourth of July. The September holiday was also a concern, especially by director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Commissioners raised their concerns about the Florida Gators’ first home football game on Saturday.

According to the state’s plan for recovery, Phase 3 includes “Bars, pubs, and nightclubs that derive more than 50 percent of sales from alcohol should operate at full capacity with limited social distancing protocols. Restaurants and food service establishments may operate at full capacity with limited social distancing protocols. Large spectator sporting events should consider reducing capacity with limited social distancing protocols.”

Alachua County Attorney Sylvia E. Torres explained what masking requirements still stand.

“Currently what’s in place is the requirement for masks in certain locations,” she said. Businesses are also required to post signage about social distancing and masking, and to be responsible for ensuring their employees wear masks.

While social activities appear to increase the number of COVID-19 cases, Lauzardo said that about 1,000 tests per day have been administered.

Lauzardo also said UF Health has been able to validate saliva testing for the virus.

“I never thought I’d be so excited about spit,” he said.

The ability to test for the coronavirus through saliva means that health officials do not have to rely on nasal swabs, which is thought to be considered a disincentive to get tested, according to Lauzardo.

About Valentina Angel

Valentina is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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