As Gov. Ron DeSantis increasingly points to young adults as the source for a spike in coronavirus cases in Florida, public universities across the state are moving forward with plans to reopen campuses in the fall.
The Florida university system’s Board of Governors on Tuesday approved individual reopening plans put together by each of the state’s 12 state universities. (See all the reopening plans below.)
Board Chairman Syd Kitson acknowledged it is likely schools will see new cases pop up as students and employees return to campus in the fall.
“It is clear that the COVID-19 virus will not likely disappear anytime soon and positive virus cases in campus communities will likely occur. Social-distancing policies and other protections for students and employees will become the norm for the foreseeable future,” Kitson said during Tuesday’s board meeting in Orlando.
Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees, who attended the meeting, stressed the importance of “personal responsibility” when reopening campuses. He told university leaders to emphasize the use of facemasks and hand washing and to encourage individuals to stay home when they feel sick.
“Florida data informs us that a younger demographic is now testing positive for COVID-19 than before. Fortunately, the effects on the young are milder … but we need to continue to protect the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions,” Rivkees, who is also the secretary of the Florida Department of Health, said.
Florida universities have been working on plans to reopen campuses after the coronavirus pandemic emptied out campuses in March.
All of the Florida university leaders said Tuesday they will require the use of facemasks on campus, with a few schools saying they intend to reprimand employees and students who do not comply.
For example, Florida State University President John Thrasher told the board that employees who do not use facemasks or abide by social-distance guidelines could be suspended.
The state universities also have plans to reduce class sizes and shrink the number of in-person courses in the fall, in order to allow students and faculty to remain at least six feet apart while indoors.
Some schools, including the University of North Florida and Florida A&M University, plan to hold some face-to-face classes on Saturdays or later in the day to accommodate students who want to learn in person.
Florida International University Provost Kenneth Furton told the board his school will only be able to offer one-third of its classes face-to-face because of the layout of some classrooms, some of which include fixed seating.
“If we were to modify the physical-distance requirements, we could accommodate more, but right now that is the biggest challenge,” Furton said, noting that most classes will be held online or using a hybrid model.
Universities also have put in place various plans to test students and faculty for the highly contagious coronavirus as they return to campus. The schools also will conduct screening of individuals who may have traveled to regions that are known hot spots for COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus.
FSU will require all employees to be tested for the virus before returning to campus and will encourage students to undergo testing. At Florida Gulf Coast University, optional testing will be provided to all students and employees prior to their return to campus.
At the University of Florida, testing will be available to all students but it will be mandatory for all students who are symptomatic and for those who are in clinical settings on campus.
Screening protocols will be used by all universities, but the methods will vary.
For example, Florida A&M plans to install temperature kiosks at busy campus locations, such as libraries. The kiosks will signal an alert when an individual’s temperature is above normal.
University of North Florida President David Szymanski said university students will be asked to conduct their own temperature checks and self-report their well-being to school officials prior to entering classrooms or buildings.
“It’s an evolving situation but right now it is going to be based on self-reporting,” Szymanski said.
But board member Eric Silagy urged Szymanski to reconsider and to use technology on campus to ensure that individuals actually are complying with the temperature checks.
“The issue you are going to face is that there are going to be students who are asymptomatic and they are going to feel fine and, if they are not really vigilant about taking their temperature, you are not going to have an early warning,” Silagy said.
Board member Charles Lydecker also asked Szymanski to ensure that students abide by social-distancing guidelines if they attend the Republican National Convention in Jacksonville, where the university is located.
Lydecker worried that thousands of people from across the country will congregate at the convention in late August, around the time that students will be arriving on campus.
He said there is a “high likelihood that face masks won’t be worn” at the convention because President Donald Trump has not embraced them, despite health officials’ recommendations that face coverings can reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Lydecker asked Szymanski if the Jacksonville university would consider prohibiting students from attending the convention, to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak on campus.
“We can’t do that. This is still America,” Szymanski responded, adding that university officials will stress to students the value of social distancing and using facemasks.
–Ana Ceballos, News Service of Florida
Florida Universities Reopening Plans
|Florida State University|
|Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University|
|University of North Florida|
|University of West Florida|
|Florida International University|
|Florida Gulf Coast University|
|University of South Florida|
|University of Florida|
|Florida Atlantic University|
|New College of Florida|
|Florida Polytechnic University|
|University of Central Florida|
Students lost out on having a graduation and all that goes with it, Couples had to cancel wedding plans, Even funeral plans had to be changed, Restaurants and other businesses are trying to follow all the rules, Large gatherings are prohibited BUT Trump has been given permission by DeSantis to bring in the mobs from everywhere for the convention and not have to follow any rules whatsoever. Both Trump and DeSantis could care less about the disease spreading to innocent people, It’s all about money and what Trump demands. Shame!!! DeSantis will be one of the ones responsible for spreading the virus.
Ben Dover says
He already has , I said this in March that Florida was going to explode with cases after he let 600.000 Bikers in to party for two straight weeks, at that same time there were Golf Tournaments with full galleries going on , these bikers were not taking any safety precautions , were in our supermarkets , hotels , bars , convenience stores , touching keypads at banks and gas stations , then after they left he let twice as many Spring Breakers in to do the exact same thing , most other states were closing down and this criminal was spreading it, A week! before he let the Bikers in Trump said at a news conference he`d be looking out for his friends in the Hotel industry , that was an order to DeSantis to let all these people in ,Plus him and Trump refuse to make masks mandatory , , they claim they have rights , well I have rights too and don`t want them making me sick, I should carry a revolver around with me with one bullet in it , and point and pull the trigger at every non mask wearing idiot , if they can play Russian Roulette with my life , I should be allowed to play it with theirs