UNF Returns to a New Normal

K-12 is struggling, can universities lead the way?

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Coronavirus cases continue to skyrocket throughout the state of Florida and along with that so do the fears of students and faculty who say they don’t feel safe going back to campus. How will The University of North Florida prevent its students and faculty from becoming infected during the duration of fall semester?  

Almost a month after deciding to switch to remote instruction, UNF turned its focus to reopening for the fall, despite an increasingly alarming amount of coronavirus cases in the state of Florida. On June 8,  Florida universities were required to provide reopening plans deemed appropriate in the midst of a pandemic to the Florida Board of Governors. UNF’s draft blueprint for reopening was approved.

The blueprint consisted of detailed plans to ensure the safety of students and faculty, including the wearing of masks indoors and outdoors when social distancing is not possible, hybrid classes, reduced class sizes, mandatory safety training for all students, faculty and staff, mandatory daily screenings via app, and occupancy guidelines for residence halls.

“Scientific studies show respiratory droplets are blocked from spreading when one wears a mask. Experiments using high-speed video found that hundreds of droplets ranging from 20 to 500 micrometers were generated when saying a simple phrase, but that nearly all these droplets were blocked when the mouth was covered by a damp washcloth,” said Doreen Perez, Ph.D, a UNF COVID-19 Response Team health coordinator. “Also, studies have found people who had influenza or the common cold significantly reduced the amount of respiratory viruses emitted in droplets and aerosols by wearing a surgical mask.”

Some are relieved that life seems to be going back to normal.

“I am in favor of going back if they are going to implement certain protocols for the safety of our faculty and students. I am one of those people that do not like online classes because it makes me lazy, and it makes me procrastinate more while going to campus makes me get up and drive 45 minutes to pay attention,” said Shlok Motiwala, a senior completing his bachelor’s degree in business administration.

Though some are content with the reopening, others who are working on the front-line, or who are at-risk, have doubts that the university is considering the lives at hand that may be affected by its reopening. 

UNF student Courtney Green is one of the students at-risk for contracting the deadly coronavirus. Though she is completely remote during the fall, she still has concerns over returning the following spring. 

“I understand that many people want life to go back to normal, but we are exacerbating the problem and dragging out the pandemic by going back to in-person contact so soon. Other universities, like Harvard, have considered not reopening until 2021, and I really wish that was something the Florida State University System would consider for at-risk students like me. I’m not sure I will feel safe returning in January after everyone has been traveling for the holidays and possibly contracting/spreading COVID-19.”

“I feel the UNF administration has tried to follow the directives of the Board of Governors. However, administrators and the board are not the front-line employees who are required to interface with the students and others every day,” said an anonymous faculty member. “I understand that economics is important, but somewhere we need to realize that life is more important.… We all know in our hearts that staying remote is the right thing to do. It just takes courage to do the right thing.”

For fall enrollment, UNF is targeting approximately 17,900 students. However, the university stated that COVID-19 may impact the numbers. The university also stated it continues to see strong registration, but that it is difficult to predict an accurate breakdown of online and in-person students at this moment in time.

Heydi Ortiz is the editor of UNF Spinnaker and a Folio Weekly contributor. 

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