As of March 9, Florida has had 1,948,307 total COVID-19 cases, with 44,625 new cases since March 8. Since Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that Florida would be entering Phase 3 of the reopening plan in Sept. 2020, restaurants and businesses have slowly been reopening to full capacity, but college campuses have also taken measures to safely reintroduce in-person opportunities throughout the past year. While New College exists in its own bubble in many ways, it has been taking safety measures similar to other large Florida universities. Based on the numbers, it seems to have paid off.
The University of South Florida (USF), for example, has devised its own four-phase approach which entered its second phase on Aug. 7, 2020. Phase II allows for 50% of staff to return to campus—up from the 25% allowed in Phase I—and requires masks to be worn in all indoor and outdoor spaces with the exception of “a single use, completely enclosed office or residence hall room.” USF utilizes the same daily symptom tracker that NCF had used in the fall and holds all meetings and events virtually, with exceptions being reviewed in advance by a COVID-19 task force. As of Jan. 7, USF has also begun administering COVID-19 vaccines to faculty and staff over 65.
The University of Central Florida (UCF), meanwhile, provides regular on-campus testing six days a week and uses a COVID Self-Checker. As of March 6, UCF has had 3,853 positive cases, 1,849 of which were self-reported by students, 360 self-reported by faculty and 198 caught prior to the student moving back onto campus. Between March 1 and March 6 alone, UCF reported 68 positive cases.
Florida’s largest university also has plans to hold two different in-person Spring 2021 Graduation events for their students to choose from: a grad walk, where a student can receive their diploma with a maximum of five guests present, or a larger and more traditional commencement ceremony alongside other students and with two guests in attendance.
While New College students and faculty have not yet received concrete news about COVID-19 vaccines or 2021 graduation plans, the campus also has some impressive COVID-19 statistics when stacked up against the rest of the state. Director of Environmental Health and Safety Yosef Shapiro said that there have been no positive cases on campus since winter break and that the weekly COVID-19 testings at Sudakoff have been averaging at 140 visitors each week.
NCF also adopted a new symptom tracker this semester after receiving student complaints about inaccessibility while registering with the USF symptom tracker in the fall.
“We wanted to switch to a more user friendly tracker to make the process as painless as possible” Shapiro said. “The tracker was retooled in response to address student concerns.”
The symptom tracker had a total of 769 responses during the week of Feb. 22 through Feb. 26, with the highest number of responses in one day being 169 and the lowest at 140. Even so, Shapiro says that it still isn’t being consistently used.
“Since we have started, we have had days that were very high, with 282 responses and days that were on the low side with 42,” Shapiro said.
In total, NCF has had 27 positive cases since March 2020, which is about 0.007% of positive cases at UCF and about 0.000014% of positive cases throughout the state of Florida.