Campus will be open this fall, but the vibe will be different
Facemasks, fewer classmates, smaller football crowds, an abundance of hand sanitizer — these are just some of the things Gators are expected to encounter when the university welcomes them back to campus in late August.
UF’s administrators have been working toward a return to normal ever since this spring’s pandemic forced professors to move classes online and commencement ceremonies to be canceled. The pandemic’s unpredictable nature, however, means the university will instead settle for the next best thing: adjusting to a virus that’s likely to be with us for the foreseeable future.
“About a month ago, my strategy was that we would lock ourselves in place and outlast the virus … until there was a cure or a vaccine,” President Kent Fuchs said in May. “Now, my whole mindset is that COVID-19 is here to stay, and we’re going to have to learn how to live with [it].”
It’s with that “new normal” that UF’s leaders and health officials crafted a preliminary plan to bring “campus back to life” in time for fall classes — the state’s Board of Governors is expected to approve the plan later this month. Strategies include practical steps, such as:
- Limiting the number of students allowed in classrooms;
- Setting up easy-to-spot hand-sanitizer stations;
- Deep-cleaning and re-cleaning all touchable surfaces; and,
- Screening or testing professors, students and staff members for the coronavirus.
But the plan goes further. More classes will be offered online so students who are uncomfortable returning to campus have options. Facemasks will be required for those who do come back. Social distancing will become standard practice. Campus’s 111 three-person dorm rooms will be capped at two roommates. Sororities and fraternities — along with clubs, intramural sports and other groups — will need to submit safety plans to reopen. Special housing will be set aside to isolate students who need to be quarantined.
Gator sports will go on — but with a possible catch. Athletics Director Scott Stricklin told season ticketholders that crowds might be much smaller than usual to keep fans apart.
“Our goal is to accommodate as many Gator fans as UF Health and state health officials deem appropriate,” he said in the letter. “By early August, we should have a better idea what fan attendance can look like.”
Even with the reopening plan as thorough as it is, keeping the entire UF community free from COVID-19 won’t be easy, campus leaders know. The university is too big and too active. Students travel to Gainesville from cities far and near. UF centers and institutes are located throughout Florida. Guests and visitors come and go. With all that in mind, UF’s plan will continue to evolve throughout the summer based on federal, state and local guidelines.
“The health and safety of our students, faculty and staff [are] at the forefront of every decision we make,” Fuchs said. “We are confident that we can implement smart, comprehensive practices that will enable a thriving, well-functioning campus and surrounding community.”
There’s good reason for his optimism. UF is one of the few universities with a world-class academic health center, experts in epidemiology and public health, and leading researchers in vaccines, therapies and COVID-19 modeling.
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