February 17: COVID-19 update: Cleared vs. Not Cleared and more on vaccines
From the director of Screen, Test & Protect:
Dear Campus Community,
I hope you are all doing well. With these messages, my goal is to provide updates on COVID-19, especially as it relates to UF, including our interpretation of the data we are collecting, commentary on new information, and a plain-spoken, fact-based assessment of where we think things are going. I plan to do the same this week, but will add an overview of the process to designate individuals on campus as “CLEARED.” We still get a number of questions about this process, so a quick review will be helpful to some.
CLEARED and NOT CLEARED
If a student, faculty or staff member is COVID-19 symptom-free, is not a recent contact to a case, and is adhering to any required testing regimen put in place to monitor COVID-19, UF Health Screen, Test, & Protect considers that person “CLEARED” for campus.
If someone is in a group that is required to test every two weeks but is not tested within the designated two-week period, they are given a NOT CLEARED status until they schedule their test. If a student or faculty or staff member has symptoms, they are NOT CLEARED until 10 days have passed or until they test negative.
If an individual is in a group that is part of routine surveillance testing, they have no symptoms and they test on schedule, they remain CLEARED for campus even while their test is pending.
To make it easier to adhere to our testing guidelines, we have added more testing appointments than ever, with the ability today to do more tests in a single day than we could in almost a whole week back in August.
Numbers to Note
The trend in COVID-19 numbers across campus, and for that matter, the state and the country, remains very encouraging. The seven-day average positivity rate among our routine surveillance testing is below 1%, and the number of cases this past week was the lowest weekly total seen since October.Cases on campus have fallen steadily over the last two months. Similar trends are occurring in Alachua County, the rest of Florida, and, in fact, the nation as a whole. Hospitalizations are also at the lowest point since the early fall.
But even with these low testing rates and drops in cases nationally, now is no time to let up on your efforts to keep campus safe. We still get 25-30 cases a day identified among all UF students, faculty and staff. As rates drop, we will reassess our current surveillance testing regimen and adjust our approach accordingly based on the data.
The Skinny on Vaccines
The relative scarcity of vaccines compared with the demand has led to a number of misconceptions and anxieties. That’s certainly understandable, but again, it will help if we shed further light on how the vaccination process is unfolding and on what we do, and do not, have control over.
First, let’s address a few misconceptions. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines provide substantial protection after just one dose and that effect happens very quickly. In the clinical trials of both vaccines, which enrolled tens of thousands of patients, the cases of COVID-19 that occurred were documented in the first two weeks after vaccination, with close to complete protection after the first two weeks after the first dose. The point here is that a commonly held notion that we are not protected until a month or more after the second dose is just not true.
Second, UF Health’s efforts at this time, consistent with state vaccination policy, is to focus on UF Health’s 65 and older population as well as partnering with the Florida Department of Health in Alachua County to reach the same population. We are working with the local health department on a number of community outreach efforts to address vaccine hesitancy and health disparities in the African American population, in farmworker communities, and with others who, for a wide variety of reasons, may distrust medical care in general and for whom access has not been guaranteed in the past.
Lastly, let’s focus on what is on virtually everyone’s mind: How you will get vaccinated if you have not been already.
UF and UF Health’s goal has always been to offer vaccination to anyone seeking it, once there is a sufficient supply. We still hope to do so for additional students, faculty and staff through our support of the Florida Department of Health in Alachua County’s efforts to expand access across the community.
In late December and early January, UF Health was asked to vaccinate as many individuals as possible and as quickly as possible for those who met eligibility criteria outlined by the state and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and followed these guidelines.
However, at this time, we do not know when or if additional vaccines will be arriving, nor when the state plans to expand eligibility. Vaccine allocation and distribution are managed at the federal and state levels, so the ability to offer vaccines depends in part on the number and timing of doses received. Vaccine manufacturers provide supply to state departments of health based on federal allocations. This state-allocated supply is distributed directly to health care entities, including hospitals, county health departments or retail pharmacies, at the discretion of state government.
In the meantime, UF and UF Health continue to provide IT support to local health department officials to help facilitate registration for vaccination using health department doses, and have provided access to sites on campus to help support their vaccine clinics. In addition, we have helped to train and assemble a group of volunteer vaccinators to assist.
We are encouraged by continued lack of transmission in classroom settings and the low positivity rate on campus, and are appreciative of the safety measures the campus community continues to embrace, including the use of masks, frequent hand washing and physical distancing. Yet we understand many of you are eager to get vaccinated and are wondering how best to do so at this time.
We encourage you to explore all available options. Please check with your local health department if you have not already done so to see if you meet current vaccine eligibility criteria, and follow their instructions to make an appointment.
You may also visit the Florida Department of Health website to see which area retail pharmacies may be offering the vaccine. In Alachua County, you can visit the Public Health Department website to be added to the wait-list.
Links to area retail pharmacies offering the vaccination to eligible populations may be found below. Please also continue to be on the lookout for communication from UF Health. If we are able to offer additional doses, we will be sure to communicate that information to eligible groups. We are monitoring the situation on a daily — and often hour-to-hour — basis.
Additional vaccination resources:
All allow you to book an appointment if available if you meet one of the Florida eligibility requirements, which include being a front-line health care worker, being older than 65, or being younger than 65 with a high-risk medical condition as outlined by state guidelines. You will have to be able to provide proof that you fall into one of these categories at time of vaccination.
• State of Florida Vaccination locater — also lists eligibility requirements
Currently, available retail pharmacy scheduling links include:
Please note that Walgreens and CVS are working to qualify to offer COVID-19 vaccinations in Florida, but have not yet started offering them here.
We know everyone is concerned and eager to know more, and we will continue to provide updates like this as soon as we have more information.
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