Shakeyla Grimes
Together for Florida

UF’s Campus Connector service provided safe transportation for students with coronavirus.

The first time she dropped off a University of Florida student at an on-campus residence hall set aside for those who need to be quarantined because of the coronavirus pandemic, UF Campus Connector driver Shakeyla Grimes was overcome with emotion.

“I had tears in my eyes,” Grimes said. But she reminded herself this is the best way to ensure the safety of all students and staff during the ongoing pandemic. “I had to shake it off.”

From Sept. 9 through Oct. 7, UF’s free Gator Lift Express van transported students who have tested positive for COVID-19 to designated dorms for quarantine. The service is still administered by UF’s Transportation and Parking Services, or TAPS, but rides are now provided by White Glove Medical Transport and Excelsior Ambulance Service.

Infected students were initially unsure of how to safely get to the dorms, so TAPS provided a solution.

The van was repurposed to fit the exact needs of this service, Transportation Manager Jeremiah McInnis said. Seats were removed from the back of the van to ensure social distancing, and airtight Plexiglas was installed to keep drivers separated from infected students.

Every rider was required to wear a mask or face covering. The drivers were not allowed to get out of the vehicle or make contact with the students during a ride.

TAPS asked its drivers for volunteers to transport the students, and Grimes was among the first to join in.

“If we had to do it again, I would volunteer to drive the kids again,” she said.

McInnis said the service would not have been possible without this cooperation from the team.

“Our drivers really stepped up and helped with this,” he said.

All of the drivers were given personal protective equipment, including N95 masks, by UF’s Transportation and Parking Services. “We had gloves, Lysol, Clorox wipes and masks,” Grimes said, “We had everything. We were well-protected.”

The precautions included a deep cleaning of the shuttle vans after each trip.

“Once the COVID-19-positive student was dropped off, the van was aired out for at least 30 minutes before being cleaned,” she said.

Despite the anxiety and even fear that some students exhibited during these trips, Grimes said the spirit of togetherness was shining through as well. Once such moment has stayed with her.

“There was a student who helped her roommate board the van with her things and let her know she would be there for her,” Grimes said.

Grimes said the experience of driving these students is just one of the ways she, like everyone else, is adapting to the new normal created by the virus.

“This is no one’s fault,’’ she said. “It’s just what is happening.”

By Lily Rucci