Dear Campus Community,
As the start of fall semester approaches, we are kicking off a new public dashboard that offers an ‘at-a-glance’ picture of COVID-19 trends among members of the university community — faculty, staff and students. These figures should provide a clearer picture of what is happening on campus from day to day. And so far we have good news: The small surge in cases that occurred locally in early June has slowed significantly and prevalence is low, less than 1%.
In addition, our contact tracing efforts are working. We have screened thousands of people, and our disease investigators, working through the public health department, have been able to quickly identify contacts of those who have tested positive and moved swiftly to quarantine them. These measures are important steps toward preventing additional cases on campus.
How to interpret this fluctuating data requires an understanding of public health concepts and functions that are new to most people, so I’d like to provide some key details that should help put things in perspective and answer key questions.
Before we get into the data, it is important to note that UF Health has been able to handle the summer surge and we are now seeing the number of patients in the hospital with COVID-19 slowly decline. Length of stay is also going down, meaning that patients are getting better faster, with a smaller proportion of patients needing longer stays to get better. Overall, fewer patients are dying. This is in part because we now know more about the virus and because new medicines like remdesivir and even decades-old medicines like dexamethasone are having an impact. We are learning quickly and we will continue to make new discoveries that save more lives.
The extent of a condition in a population is known as the prevalence, and currently the prevalence of COVID-19 among asymptomatic individuals on campus is between 0.23% and 0.47%. This is a low and manageable rate of infection.
A key assessment of what percentage of UF students, faculty and staff are in general positive is the UF Health Screen, Test, & Protect return-to-campus initiative. This is where thousands of faculty, staff and students have had the opportunity to be tested after completing a screening questionnaire. Among these asymptomatic students, roughly 0.47%, or 4 out of 1,000, have tested positive for COVID-19; among these asymptomatic faculty and staff, about 0.23%, or 2 out of 1,000, have tested positive.
Most students who request to be tested at the UF Student Health Care Center are usually experiencing symptoms and therefore are suspected of having COVID-19 when they come to the clinic. Of this small group of students, about 19.7% have tested positive. This number does not mean that 19.7% of all students at UF have COVID-19. That could not be further from the truth. It does, however, mean that 19.7% of students tested at Student Health, most of whom had symptoms of COVID-19, were confirmed to be infected.
So how many total cases have there been among what we refer to as UF affiliates (students, faculty and other employees, and other UF-affiliated individuals)? COVID-19 is a reportable infection and as such, any and all labs that perform tests for COVID-19 are required to report all positive results to the health department where an individual resides. Tests done in any doctor’s office, pharmacy, hospital or health department will be reported in this way and people also often tell us they tested positive. Because of our relationship with the Florida Department of Health, we get a list of all new reported cases and cross-match that with the master UF Person database. If we get a match, we define that person as a UF affiliate and our team begins the investigation and orders isolation and quarantine of contacts. As of today, we have had 809 cases of COVID-19 and 971 contacts of UF affiliates have been identified and followed (many of these have since completed their isolation/quarantine period). As you can see, our Screen, Test & Protect return-to-campus initiative and Student Health Care Center results are only a part of the story in terms of our ability to identify cases through increased testing and contact tracing.
The updates we are providing on our publicly accessible dashboard show how many we have tested through UF Health Screen, Test & Protect as well as cases we have identified through various sources of case reporting, how many are positive among those we test, and how many cases and contacts are in isolation or quarantine. We hope you will find these numbers informative and that this summary helps clarify some basic information. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you have any questions or concerns. I welcome your insights and suggestions. We all have a part to play in making things safer for our university, and we deeply appreciate everything you are all doing to help.
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