Universities work to mitigate COVID-19 spread

Posted at 11:17 PM, Oct 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-13 23:17:52-04

TAMPA, Fla. -- Across the state, universities are taking steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19. At the University of South Florida, that means not only testing people, but also places.

Part of the university’s layered program, which includes symptom checking and random testing, is environmental sampling.

“All together, it gives us an idea what the prevalence is the environmental testing gives us an idea of where the virus may be present on campus and then we can go and do targeted testing in people who are frequently in those areas that we have positives that are popping up,” said Thomas Unnasch, Ph.D., a distinguished university professor at USF’s College of Public Health.

Each week, high-touch surfaces are swabbed and tested for coronavirus.

“Elevator buttons, snack machines, doorknobs, faucet handles things like that and looking for the presence of virus there with the idea that if people are infectious they’re going to be going around picking up the virus on their hands and then depositing it on these surfaces,” said Unnasch.

Some university leaders say USF is doing well.

“We have not seen massive surges in cases with schools going back, students going back to school or the universities opening. And again, I think there’s been a lot of collaboration, cooperation certainly across the region,” said Donna Petersen, dean of the USF College of Public Health and chair of the COVID-19 Task Force.

Student compliance and collaboration is also key.

“We’ve not seen outbreaks of large groups of students coming together, we’ve just not seen it. And that’s why we’re really grateful we’re appreciative of our students and the level of care they’ve taken to prevent the spread of the virus,” Petersen said.

Across the region, schools are working to mitigate the risk.

Since August 24, data shows USF in Tampa has had 378 cases. Petersen notes data can include students who are distance learning.

Data shows the University of Tampa has had more than 420 cases since August 28. It breaks down data for newly diagnosed cases by week, reporting 123 newly diagnosed cases on October 9.

A university spokesperson said case numbers seem to rise and fall.

“We attribute the most recent uptick to general complacency regarding personal health and safety, especially off-campus – at bars, clubs and restaurants, house parties and city-wide events. We continue to message to the UT community about being proactive about health and safety measures,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

The university said it issued a moratorium on students visiting each others’ residence hall rooms after seeing an increased number of cases in residence halls a few weeks ago. The spokesperson said the numbers of on-campus cases declined.

Based on public health guidance, the university said it has also adjusted the spring semester schedule, replacing the traditional spring break with four non-instructional days spread throughout the semester.

“We believe these days off will provide a periodic break from classes while negating the threat of virus transmission during a typical spring break scenario,” the spokesperson stated.