Recreation & Wellness shuts down facilities after employees test positive for COVID-19

Despite its safety protocols, USF Recreation & Wellness reported six positive COVID-19 cases over the weekend. All indoor facilities will remain closed until it’s deemed safe to reopen. ORACLE PHOTO/LEDA ALVIM

After six of its employees tested positive for COVID-19, Recreation & Wellness on Sunday shut down all of its indoor facilities, including the Rec Center, the FIT and pools, until further notice.

Of the 300 student employees, six notified Director Jay Souza of their positive tests between Sept. 11 and 13 and were required to self-isolate for 14 days. The Florida Department of Health has been contact-tracing anyone who might have been in contact with the employees and will be notifying all individuals who might need to self-isolate.

“So, unfortunately, we did have some staff that tested positive for COVID-19, and we decided to make this move because those students do work in the operational aspect of both the FIT and the main Rec Center,” Souza said.

Due to rotation in the schedule, Souza said all six employees were working across different facilities, including the Rec Center and the FIT.

“I think it’s just safe for us to close at this point in time, and give it a two-week window, maybe more, depending on what happens with the rest of campus to kind of work this out and see how it goes,” Souza said.

The Florida Department of Health is working with Student Health Services to access the data and testing results of those who are in isolation, according to Souza. They will then interview all individuals who might have been exposed in order to establish the contact tracing.

Souza said the university is not participating in any of the contact tracing being done by the Florida Department of Health. 

“It’s not our role as a department, we don’t ask people’s personal information so we’re not even getting involved with that,” Souza said. “It’s really about the Department of Health stepping in and they assess your level of risk and what you need to do, whether it’s self-isolate for 14 days or just monitor your health as an example or ‘no, you need to come get a test now,’ like that’s essentially what happened.”

For the time being, no employee will be allowed inside any facilities, according to Souza. He said the facilities will be cleaned once there’s a set date to reopen.

“I’m very comfortable that once we are up and open again that we properly clean the entire facility, and we do actually work with the facilities area on campus to make sure that we’re following protocol,” Souza said.

Despite all indoor facilities being closed, Souza said Recreation & Wellness will give the option to other student employees to remain actively working until normal operations resume.

“Right now, we’re working with our team to see what else we could offer in different areas of the department,” Souza said. “We have some professional development opportunities that we would typically offer throughout the year, which we may end up giving some opportunities for those to participate now to get some of that done, which we would typically do through training purposes, and we’re also looking to help out in some other areas, for instance, if [Riverfront Park] needs additional staff, we’re willing to offer that up to our student employees.”

Under the new safety protocols implemented for the fall semester, all students were required to wear face masks upon entering and exiting the facilities as well as when walking around, except for when exercising. However, as students started taking the masks off when walking around the facility, Recreation & Wellness announced on Sept. 11 that the use of masks would be required at all times, even when exercising.

“Unfortunately, we found a lot of students that were taking their masks off and were talking and we had to constantly remind them to put the mask on … because they would sometimes forget, and go get a drink or fill the water bottle or move on to the next area of their exercise routine and they would just forget to put it on,” Souza said.

“It started getting a little unsafe for our concern so we figured we’re gonna have to mandate the masks.”

Students, faculty and staff were required to make a reservation to access any on-campus gym, including the Rec Center and the FIT. During each one-hour-and-15-minute reservation, the Rec Center had a maximum capacity of 75 people, compared to 35 people in the FIT.

In total, about 1,000 people would visit the Rec Center and the FIT daily, according to Souza.

While all indoor facilities remain closed until further notice, Souza said all virtual programs will continue uninterrupted and the USF Riverfront Park, outdoor fields, tennis courts and the Fitness Trail will remain open.

“We’re focusing entirely on our virtual programming, and probably should see more activity there because we’re going to direct people that fashion to all multiple programs, whether it’s in real sports, eSports, fitness, group fitness and even some outdoor educational pieces,” he said.

After shutting down most of its facilities on short notice, Souza said the decision was made to ensure the health and safety of all students.

“I just hope students understand that we do this out of an abundance of caution to make sure our students are staying safe,” Souza said. “The primary objective for us is to make sure that our students are well, they’re cared for and that they’re safe so, at first, of course, we’re going to get some feedback and students are upset, but it’s all in an effort to help them remain safe.”