As college students prepare for classes to start, the Alachua Board of Commissioners wants to make sure that the low positivity rate, decline in COVID-19 cases, and low rate of hospitalization trends continue in Alachua County.
On Wednesday (Aug. 26th) the BOCC, City of Gainesville and representatives from the University of Florida agreed that socializing without distancing might become the biggest threat to controlling any spread of the virus both on an off campus.
From potential tailgating to house parties, both commissions agreed that amending the County Emergency Order 2020-30 to reflect a limit of no more than 10 people gathered indoors where social distancing is not possible and no more than 50 people gathered outdoors if social distancing is not possible would be necessary as thousands of students are returning for the fall semester.
According to UF’s Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Dr. Charles Lane, the onboarding of staff and students is on schedule.
UF has adopted the Screen, Test, Protect mantra and so far 91 percent of the employees (23,204) have been cleared to return and 63 percent (14,956) of those employees have opted to take the COVID-19 test.
“Enrollment is down 1,000,” Lane said, bringing the total to 51,584 which Lane said is “back to normal” after a robust year in 2019.
“We won’t see quite as many people in Gainesville,” Lane said and noted that there will be 6,455 students in the incoming freshman class.
And 99 percent of those students have been screened with 36 percent opting for testing.
That influx could mean potential house parties and social gatherings that have proven to be an effective way to advance the spread of COVID-19.
BOCC Chair Robert Hutchinson and County Commissioner Ken Cornell both agreed that addressing the number of people allowed to gather would be a necessary step and City of Gainesville commissioners encouraged an amendment to the current Emergency Order to add that groups of no more than 10 can congregate indoors.
The Gainesville Police Department, the University Police Department and the Alachua County Sheriff’s office will be asked to develop that language in the order that will address the penalty for defying the order.
The County is also drafting a letter asking UF and Santa Fe College to adopt the same rule on campus and will ask that infractions of the rule should result in academic suspension, not just a fine or citation.
Chair Hutchinson said the new order would most likely go into effect on Monday, Aug. 31st.