In this time of crisis and uncertainty, UF Health’s missions of research, teaching, patient care and community service are more urgent than ever. Our health system has been a leader in providing excellent health care for many years. Our patients rely on us to give our best to improve their lives, to ease their suffering and to bring forward the latest medical discoveries and clinical advances in their time of greatest need.
As the No. 7-ranked public university in the nation, we are bringing to bear all our considerable resources to battle the coronavirus, working hand-in-hand with the state to confront the unfolding outbreak. From virologists at the UF Emerging Pathogens Institute and experts at UF Health Pathology Laboratories to infectious disease specialists and emergency room physicians and health care providers at UF Health, we are well-positioned to provide the best response possible to a shifting epidemic that is bound to test us all.
UF Health is teaming up with The Villages® community, The Villages Health primary care network, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and state health and emergency management officials to begin offering large-scale testing for COVID-19 to residents of the region.
In this coordinated response to the coronavirus public health emergency, the initial efforts will involve a team of about 25 volunteer UF Health medical professionals together with Villages Health personnel to evaluate 400 to 500 people a day for the next five days who have preregistered for evaluation and potential testing starting Monday. A group of more than 100 volunteer UF medical, physician assistant and nursing students also will assist.
Area residents who preregister will be assessed for symptoms, travel and exposure history and tested if they meet clinical criteria. Depending on the severity of their illness, they could potentially be further evaluated on-site or at a UF Health facility or sent home to self-quarantine while awaiting test results.
If they are concerned yet do not have symptoms nor meet standard clinical testing criteria, they will have the opportunity to sign up for a UF research study that enables them to receive testing as part of an epidemiological protocol known as community surveillance. The purpose of the study is to assess the degree of asymptomatic viral shedding at the onset of a COVID-19 outbreak. This is a valuable public health activity to identify people with early disease or asymptomatic shedding of virus.
The move is a first step toward offering the ability to screen for the novel coronavirus more expansively across the state.
Our Emerging Pathogens Institute, long before the coronavirus emerged as a shadow on the world health stage, constantly tracks, monitors and researches pathogens seen around the planet, from the Zika virus, tuberculosis, Ebola, citrus greening and less virulent forms of the coronavirus. In a sense, the Institute has been preparing for this very day since its creation in 2006. EPI supports the best minds to better understand how infectious diseases affect the world, with its 200 affiliated faculty conducting research in 30 nations. They work to anticipate outbreaks. Indeed, since the new coronavirus first emerged in China, the Institute has been working the problem.
Emerging Pathogens Institute virologist John Lednicky is one the nation’s leading experts on coronavirus and has spent decades tracking how they spread both in animals and humans. He developed a test to search for undiscovered coronaviruses in the populations of bats found in the Gainesville area. That work led eventually to a test to detect the new coronavirus in humans, a research assay that we hope will allow us to monitor the spread of COVID-19 in the community.