December 9: COVID-19 update: Spring semester
From the director of Screen, Test & Protect:
I know you’re concerned. I’m also a faculty member. Here’s what you should know.
As a faculty member myself, I understand the concerns some of you have about returning to more in-person classes this spring. I spend a considerable amount of my day meeting face-to-face with people, as do thousands of my colleagues here at UF Health.
I also know that you — regardless of your discipline — value facts, data and evidence-based science. These are the hallmarks of academia and an advanced society, and they also serve as the beacons that guide UF’s approach to bringing back more in-person classes during the spring semester.
With that in mind, here are the facts I believe are important for you to know:
Masks and physical distancing are effective.
Numerous studies confirm — and the CDC agrees — that masks are effective in reducing the spread of disease, which is why face coverings will continue to be required inside all UF buildings, including classrooms and labs, during the spring semester.
Likewise for physical distancing — research proves it works, which is why students will be 6 feet apart in classrooms and labs again during the spring semester. Furthermore, UF has purchased 50,000 N95 masks to be distributed to faculty for use in academic settings.
We are confident in our ability to have a successful spring semester.
Over 1,100 faculty have been teaching face-to-face in the classroom this fall. On the basis of our experience to date, we are confident in our ability to have a successful spring semester.
Our positivity rate is at 2%.
Our positivity rate for COVID-19 cases at UF currently stands at 2%. This is nearly 5-fold less than the positivity rate for the state of Florida and one third of the rate for Alachua County. For this, I credit my colleagues here at UF Health Screen, Test & Protect, who have mounted and sustained a Herculean and successful effort to manage the spread of COVID-19. This program includes the time-honored practice of contact tracing, which the CDC recognizes as key to slowing the spread of disease. Also, it is important to remember that a contact is defined as any individual within 6 feet of an infected person for a total of 15 cumulative minutes or more within a 24-hour period.
Testing efforts are ramping up.
Testing has been ramped up significantly for the spring, with routine surveillance testing occurring every 2 weeks for students in sororities and fraternities, living in residence halls or attending face-to-face classes. We now have the capacity to conduct at least 2,200 tests a day. As valuable as testing is, it is important to note that it is a snapshot in time. However, it is part of a comprehensive strategy that allows us to identify cases sooner and isolate them quickly.
Classrooms will be cleaned daily.
Classrooms will be cleaned each day prior to the start of class. UF’s custodial workers will follow UF Health expert guidance and CDC guidelines, using chemicals approved by the EPA to clean and disinfect surfaces and touchpoints in classrooms, offices and restrooms before the start of each academic day.
UF is by no means the only college or university planning to offer more face-to-face class sections this spring. Many others have announced their intentions to do so because with precautions in place, classrooms aren’t important sources of transmission.
Can we guarantee the return to in-person classes will be 100% risk-free? Of course not. Every facet of life contains some level of risk, and this is no different. It would be unreasonable and unrealistic for anyone to think otherwise.
What we can do — and are doing — is to stack the odds in our favor. That, combined with all of us being there to support each other, will help us achieve the successful spring semester we all want.
As always, please visit the Screen, Test & Protect website for more information and don’t hesitate to reach out to us if we can be of any help at all.
Michael Lauzardo, MD, MSc
Director, UF Health Screen, Test & Protect
Deputy Director, Emerging Pathogens Institute
Associate Professor, Division of Infectious Diseases and Global Medicine
UF College of Medicine