Florida’s university pandemic response ramps up for spring

As they head into spring semester, universities throughout Florida are looking to increased testing and reporting measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

With the spike in cases reaching over 1 million in Florida, according to the Florida Department of Health, officials fear there will be a spike from students who returned from the Thanksgiving break, only now becoming apparent.

Florida International University’s COVID-19 dashboard relies on self-reporting by students and faculty, overseen by the Student Affairs and Human Resources division and the university’s COVID-19 Response team. The dashboard is updated every Monday.

The dashboard is divided into four different categories: students living or learning on campus, students learning remotely, faculty/staff working on campus, and those working remotely.

Several hundred cases have been reported since the start of the fall semester. Students and staff have also been asked to fill out a COVID-19 questionnaire via the Panthers Protecting Panthers.

In addition to the health facilities offered by FIU such as the Student Health Clinic and FIU Health, the university has partnered with Curative, a mobile testing facilitator. Testing is done through self swab and by appointment only at Curative.com.

Located near Parkview housing at the Modesto Maidique Campus, the testing station will be walk-up only, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. It opened the week before Thanksgiving.

“When we have the P3 app flag a student who tests positive for COVID-19 we immediately contact using our Telehealth line, to see the progression of their symptoms,” said Tanziana Gonzalez, who works with the FIU contact tracing team. “The team is prepared for when students come back and we are actively working to update the data.”

The University of Central Florida is working with Aventus Biolabs’ to offer antibody tests to students. Results are normally turned within 48 hours.

The testing site is at Garage A located in 12491 University Blvd. The site will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The UCF self-reported dashboard is divided into four categories: student positive tests, move-in positive cases, self-reported student positive tests, and faculty/staff.

Almost 2600 positive student cases have been reported on and off-campus.

Prior to the start of the fall semester, the university implemented extensive new cleaning and sanitization measures on campus such as adding Plexiglass and upgrading ventilation systems and filtration according to UCF Today.

Occupancy in housing and classrooms were reduced and face coverings mandated on campus in order to combat the spread of the virus. The university is asking students who are found on campus to complete the daily self-symptom checker using UCF’s.

Residential students who returned from Thanksgiving were also required to get tested.

As of Aug. 24, the USF had reported 131 student cases and 107 employees cases. The current numbers displayed on the dashboard are 702 student and 118 faculty/staff cases.

Students living on campus are required to get tested prior to returning to their dorms.

The dashboard is divided into three categories: known student cases, random sampling, and isolating on campus.

Private institutions are also taking similar measures. The University of Miami uses a daily symptom checker, where students are required to answer COVID-19 related questions when on campus.

The university dashboard also draws from various data sources, including Electronic Health Record and the quarantine/isolation database, taking into account students who have tested positive on campus.

“Students who are asymptomatic residential students are scheduled for regular testing every 10 days,” said Erin Kobetz, a professor of medicine and public health sciences as well as the vice provost for research at UM.

Kobetz along with the contact tracing team, UTRACE, has been keeping track of the university cases.

“Asymptomatic residential students are scheduled for regular testing every 10 days,” said Kobetz. “Symptomatic students sign up for testing online through Student Health Service.”

For students who planned on going away for the break, can get tested at their asymptomatic testing site and receive a test for travel purposes.

UM is administering COVID-19 test through a mid-nasal swab for residential and non-residential students. The university intends on extending testing options in spring 2021.

 “In spring, we will begin offering a random sample of students antibody testing to better appreciate the prevalence of past infection across the university,” said Kobetz.

The UM COVID-19 dashboard is updated daily from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. The university has tested since the week of Aug. 16. The dashboard is divided into three categories: residential or non-residential, and university staff.

Testing 58,466 students the U found 1,461 positive cases from residential or non-residential students. The UM dashboard also breaks students who are actively isolated or quarantined.

Miami-Dade College will remain in phase 2 as laid out in its recovery plan, students are required to follow up with the local Florida Department Dashboard. 

MDC libraries and common areas can resume regular operations in adherence to Centers for Disease Control guidelines, students are required to get tested before going to  campus.

Jordan Coll is from Miami and is currently majoring in journalism with a minor in philosophy. He enjoys reading and meeting new people from all walks of life. His deeply embedded passions are  music, photography, travel and keeping up with current events.