From the director of Screen, Test & Protect:
When it comes to a public health challenge like the pandemic, it’s understandable to want a quick and clear solution. Yet navigating a global crisis of this nature often takes a somewhat more complex course, with many people taking many steps toward the goal that together work to effect the change we seek. It requires a big commitment, and no small amount of patience.
As we reflect on the turn of the calendar page that has brought us to the start of 2021, my mind turns to traditional New Year’s wishes for health, prosperity and happiness. And I’ve been heartened to witness the great strides we’ve made in the past few weeks toward the promise of a better tomorrow. The initial rollout of vaccinations has occurred months ahead of schedule. And as you’ll read below, our local efforts to vaccinate our communities are well underway, with more than 16,000 vaccinations already administered across our Gainesville, Jacksonville and Central Florida health campuses.
I’d like to share a few updates on behalf of all who are hard at work on testing and vaccination efforts, which I hope will bring some measure of comfort as we double down on bringing the pandemic to an end, and as we look to get the spring semester off to a strong start next week.
Springing into spring semester
As of Dec. 21, the status of University of Florida students changed to “not cleared for campus” and will remain that way until they have completed their screening and, if necessary, a COVID-19 test. Students living in residence halls or undergraduate students registered for a face-to-face class must fill out their screening questionnaire and complete a test by Jan. 10. So far, more than 17,000 of our students have registered for their COVID-19 test at one of our three campus locations, and we are prepared to test thousands more as students continue to schedule through the weekend.
Instructors can access their class roll on my.UFL.edu at any time to confirm students are cleared to attend class in person. In addition, students can access their status on their smartphones.
After the initial return-to-campus screening, all students will begin to receive a weekly health screening questionnaire. Students who live in residence halls, attend face-to-face classes, and/or are active members of the UF Greek community who reside in or have a meal plan within a Greek residence will be part of a routine testing plan, where they will be tested every two weeks.
Meanwhile, faculty and staff continue to have the opportunity to complete weekly screenings and to opt to take a COVID-19 test. This is an important monitoring activity that helps to identify any incidence of COVID-19 in the university community, after which infected individuals are isolated and their close contacts are quarantined.
In addition, masking and physical distancing protocols remain in place. Students are expected to wear a mask at all times in the classroom, and 6 feet of physical distance will be maintained in the classroom. All teaching faculty are being provided with N95 masks for use in the classroom. To help navigate issues related to PPE, enforcement of safety policies and more, please see the Faculty Quick Reference Guide.
UF Health is playing a key role in protecting our community by vaccinating as many individuals as possible based on available vaccine supplies, and is prioritizing higher-risk individuals. We have been following CDC and state guidance and the governor’s executive order, focusing first on front-line health care workers and at-risk individuals such as those over the age of 65.
As more vaccine has become available, we’ve begun to increase the number and categories of individuals vaccinated. The health system is now offering vaccines to UF faculty and staff ages 65 and older, and in less than a week since they received their email invitation, more than half have already opted to be vaccinated.
We know some of you may still have questions about vaccination and its safety and effectiveness. The vaccines the FDA have authorized for use have been vetted through rigorous clinical trials and are believed to be safe. After nearly three weeks and thousands of vaccines administered, UF Health has seen very few adverse reactions, mostly minor symptoms that dissipate quickly. COVID-19 itself carries substantial risks, and while some individuals fare very well, we now know of more than 300,000 people nationally who are no longer with us because of this disease. Your decision to vaccinate is a personal one. We are here to help provide evidence-based answers or to direct you to useful information as you weigh options (visit coronavirus.ufhealth.org/vaccinations and cdc.gov/vaccines/covid-19/index.html for details). I also welcome faculty to join me at one of our upcoming town hall sessions (see the schedule at hr.ufl.edu/town-halls-and-online-events/conversations-with-mike-lauzardo/).
As you likely read about in Dr. David Nelson’s campuswide message this week, we’re also working with the Florida Department of Health in Alachua County to support efforts to vaccinate as many people as the supply of vaccine will allow. To be as efficient as possible and reduce duplication of effort, we are building on our successful collaboration on coronavirus testing and contact tracing in the community that started last year with UF Health Screen, Test & Protect and continued through the most difficult months of the pandemic. We believe this joint effort with the health department will help us to further work together to end this pandemic as soon as possible. As the health department lays the groundwork for local efforts to vaccinate the broader community, UF Health is planning to contribute personnel, training, expertise and an additional vaccination site to help expand access.
We will soon jointly staff vaccination locations throughout the community. Today, the health department will start an appointment-only vaccination site at the Martin Luther King Jr. Multipurpose Center on the east side of Gainesville. That will be followed perhaps as soon as next week by a site at the UF Cultural Plaza/Museums on Hull Road, with the department providing vaccine doses and administrative oversight. UF Health will support the effort to expand access with a team of trained vaccinators, including nurses, physician assistants, medical, dental, and pharmacy students, faculty and other volunteers from across its hospital system and health colleges.
In addition, more than 11,000 UF Health patients ages 65 and over who are residents of Alachua County and have accessed their electronic health record within the past 12 months have begun to receive notices this week through their online MyUFHealth accounts offering appointments for vaccinations. By necessity, appointments will be spread out over more than a month to accommodate everyone. Vaccinations will take place primarily at UF Health Springhill. This effort will be expanded in coming days and weeks to include additional UF Health patients as vaccine supplies increase.
The state Department of Health in Alachua County is supporting community practices that do not have local hospital affiliations.
As the vaccine supply expands in the coming weeks and months, it is expected that categories of residents eligible to be vaccinated will grow wider so that eventually anyone who wants to be vaccinated can get one. Any delays in delivering vaccines to vaccination sites is temporary. When you become eligible you will be notified.
Getting vaccinated is a way to not only protect yourself but also to care for others around you. As we embark on a new year, we have a new opportunity to take a personal step toward helping to end the pandemic, and I encourage you to consider it when the time comes for you to make this important decision. We will get back to normal and vaccination is the way forward.
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