It is not the typical first week back from spring break.
Classrooms are empty, dorms are not filled to capacity and the population on campus is dwindling all because of the unprecedented isolation the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has demanded.
Students will begin remote coursework today and this will be the reality for the remainder of the semester. USF employees (faculty and staff) have also been directed to work remotely until further notice.
The university is recommending students stay away from campus until at least May 7. If students living in dorms do not have other housing options, they are permitted to stay in their residence hall.
Along with the campus, the entire country will transition to a “15-day pause” — as recommended by the White House — to limit the spread of the virus as much as possible.
The guidelines of the 15-day pause include working and schooling from home, practicing good hygiene as well as avoiding social gatherings, traditional restaurant settings, travel and nursing homes.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is recommending groups of more than 10 people be canceled until at least March 31, with the general rule to keep a six-foot distance from one another.
Although people under 30 are seemingly less likely to contract the virus, the pause is aimed at keeping people safe who are labeled as higher risk. This includes people who are immunocompromised, have asthma, diabetes, cancer, heart disease or severe obesity, according to the CDC.
In an effort to encourage social distancing, Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered all restaurants in Florida on Friday to move to take-out and delivery options only. Bars and nightclubs, movie theaters and gyms have also been ordered to close for at least 30 days. However, that time period could be extended depending on the circumstances.
Measures have been put in place over the past weeks to slow the spread of the virus, but a decrease in cases has yet to be seen as the state ramps up testing.
As of Sunday, there were 244 additional positive COVID-19 cases totaling over 1,000 in Florida, according to the Florida Department of Health. Of those cases, 58 are from Hillsborough County.
So far, there are two known confirmed cases of COVID-19 from the USF community, one staff member at the Tampa campus and a student at the St. Pete campus.
The St. Pete student is self-isolating and being monitored by the Florida Department of Health’s Pinellas County division, according to a systemwide email sent by USF President Steven Currall yesterday. The student poses no threat to the USF community as they have not been on campus since late February.
The confirmed Tampa case was a staff member from the USF Counseling Center. The email sent by Currall on March 18 said the employee was in contact with 13 students and several employees who are now self-isolating.
With social distancing, people do have to be mindful of whom they are surrounded by. However, that doesn’t mean they have to be locked inside.
Individuals can still go on walks, exercise and get fresh air within their neighborhoods as long as they are keeping a six-foot distance from people, according to the New York Times.
Essential businesses such as pharmacies and grocery stores will remain open but they are encouraged to pick times during which there are the least amount of people and to wipe down surfaces with sanitation wipes before use.
This is especially important since the virus can live on surfaces like plastic and steel for up to three days, according to the New York Times.
The CDC said handwashing is one of the best ways to protect yourself and your family from getting sick. It is recommended that you wash your hands after entering your house, before preparing food, after sneezing or coughing and going to the bathroom.
Good handwashing consists of lathering the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails for at least 20 seconds.
Symptoms of COVID-19 range from mild to severe but the main indicators include a fever, dry cough and difficulty breathing.
If students are worried about their health, they can contact USF Tampa’s Student Health Services (SHS100) at 813-974-2331, St. Pete’s Wellness Center (SLC 2200) at 727-873-442 and Sarasota-Manatee’s Counseling and Wellness Center (5805 Bay Shore Rd.) at 941-487-4254.