Gator Nation News

Coronavirus and Campus in 2021

For students and faculty, a new normal that looks a little more like the old normal

Almost a year after COVID-19 turned the Gator Nation and rest of the world upside down, UF is looking for a return to the familiar this spring — or at least as close to it as the pandemic will safely allow.

“Trends we have seen here at UF in recent weeks are encouraging and give us reason to believe our approach, rooted in public health best practices, is working,” UF infectious diseases expert Dr. Michael Lauzardo said in October. “The surge of cases that we saw and expected in September has come and gone. The most important aspect is, to the best of our knowledge, transmission of COVID-19 in academic settings has not occurred.”

That return to a guarded normal starts with a move back to more in-person classes, UF President Kent Fuchs said in a video message last month. “Although we are justifiably proud of the effectiveness of UF’s online instruction, the full experience of a residential university includes in-person instruction,” he stressed.

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Trends we have seen here at UF in recent weeks are encouraging and give us reason to believe our approach, rooted in public health best practices, is working.

— Dr. Michael Lauzardo, UF infectious diseases expert —

It will be a careful first step. Plans are to offer roughly the same number of classes next semester as in spring 2020, but physical distancing requirements will mean there will likely be fewer students sitting in those classrooms.

To keep students and professors healthy, the university is leaning on advice and protocols from doctors and scientists in UF Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Then, it’s taking safety precautions even further by doing the following:

  • monitoring campus wastewater for signs of the virus
  • offering the entire university community saliva tests that can detect COVID-19
  • reducing class sizes using a hybrid model that allows students to take the same courses together either in person or online (except for classes that require in-person instruction, there will be virtual options)
  • ordering 50,000 new N-95 masks for faculty members
  • moving spring break to early January prior to the start of classes to lessen students’ risk of being exposed to COVID-19 while traveling later in the semester

“UF classrooms are being enhanced with HyFlex technologies like additional screens, cameras, digital whiteboards, and microphones to create a more engaging classroom environment for students both in the classroom and at a distance,” Student Affairs Vice President D’Andra Mull and Zina Evans, enrollment management vice president, wrote in a joint Oct. 30 message to students. “These technologies will assist in enhancing UF’s commitment to its educational mission.”

If it goes well, other traditional campus activities — such as, face-to-face student club meetings, intramural sports and gatherings on the Plaza of the Americas — could be next in line to return to spring’s guarded normal.

“We will be monitoring the ongoing evolution of the pandemic throughout the remainder of the fall semester as well as during the winter break,” Lauzardo said. “Many have been doing the right thing: practicing healthy habits like mask wearing, physical distancing and frequent hand washing, and avoiding large gatherings where people aren’t following these best practices. Still, we expect to see a periodic bump in the number of positive cases in the weeks to come … [But] together, and with planning, prudence and preparation, we can make the spring 2021 semester a success.”

Common sense measures put in place in summer and fall — screening and tracing, face coverings, physical distancing, handwashing, self-isolating when sick — slowed outbreaks, health experts say. From mid-March through end of October, just 3,249 students and 484 UF employees tested positive for the virus.