COVID-19 is still here; UNF plan will rely on “honor system,” SHS Director explains

Lauren Fox and Carter Mudgett

The University of North Florida’s (UNF) plan to combat COVID-19 will remain remarkably similar to the previous term. With an average of 8,689 reported cases in Florida last week, according to the New York Times, COVID-19 is still prevalent in the U.S. 

An influx of students coming onto UNF’s campus and moving into the dorms means a higher risk for the transmission of cases. The UNF testing center will remain closed — previously located in Lot 17 — but free testing is available for students at the Student Health Services (SHS) clinic.

“Testing became something that Student Health Services would offer to the students only and then faculty and staff, they can use their insurance or the home test to test for COVID,” SHS Director Dr. Valerie Morrison said. 

Dr. Morrison recommends that people who suspect they’ve been exposed to the virus get tested and isolate themselves to avoid passing it on. For students living together in on-campus dorms, complete isolation may not be an option. 

 In this Sep. 10, 2021 photo, testing materials and supplies sit inside the University of North Florida’s COVID-19 testing clinic. The clinic was set up in Building 62 and Lot 17 to provide students, faculty and staff with a place to safely test for COVID-19 at no additional cost. The clinic was later shut down in March 2022 as the COVID-19 cases lessened on campus. (Carter Mudgett)

During the Fall 2021 and Spring 2022 semesters, students living on campus were forced to leave upon testing positive for the virus. 

Many students expressed concern over what to do if they tested positive because they had no place to go if they were kicked out of their dorms. International students and those with immunocompromised family members were among the people worried by the rule. The university offered a list of nearby hotels for students to stay at, although UNF would not be responsible for the cost.

This rule was revoked when the Spring 2022 semester ended. Now, the roommates of students who test positive will also be asked to isolate because of their assumed exposure. 

Last semester, UNF saw a spike in COVID-19 cases during the first week of the Spring 2022 semester. Before the term officially began, 78 students and employees tested positive. The number of positive cases jumped to 235 students and employees upon the first week of school.

UNF stopped posting weekly updates of COVID-19 cases on and off campus in March 2022, a month after discontinuing exposure notifications for students, faculty and staff.

“I really don’t know what to anticipate for the fall, but we are preparing because, you know, it’s been summer and there’s not been as many students on campus,” Dr. Morrison said. “We are preparing because everybody’s gonna be back together again.”

Following the CDC’s current guidelines and Dr. Morrison, roommates who are not vaccinated will be asked to quarantine longer than five days because the quarantine period is from the last exposure, not the first. If neither the roommate who’s initially infected nor the roommate who’s exposed will leave campus, they may each have to quarantine for five days after their last exposure or five days from the onset of symptoms. 

The Villages dorms at UNF
The Villages dorms at UNF. (Blake Middleton/Spinnaker)

If students are fever-free after the five-day period, they can return to class but are encouraged to wear a mask for ten days. These guidelines may be subject to change following updates from the CDC. 

Dr. Morrison explained that the school would help guide students through their quarantine and through self-isolation. In the past, UNF provided a list of nearby hotels for students to stay at if they tested positive for COVID-19 and were forced to leave campus. 

Although UNF’s Coronavirus FAQ says that people who test positive will be asked to leave campus, Dr. Morrision said, “we will not be kicking people off campus.”

In an effort to prevent school-wide outbreaks upon the start of the Fall semester, SHS has again partnered with Walgreens to provide vaccines and boosters on-campus. While dates for on-campus vaccine availability have not been set yet, Dr. Morrison expected them to be available within the first three weeks of the Fall semester. 

Even though many people have already been vaccinated, Dr. Morrison warned of the latest strain of the virus: Omicron BA.5. Prior COVID-19 infections and the vaccine “doesn’t seem to stop it,” she explained. 

Students who were vaccinated last year, prior to new variants, may still be at risk for reinfection. As of Aug. 6, the BA.5 variant makes up 87.1% of COVID-19 cases in the U.S., according to the CDC. 

SHS is encouraging students to wash their hands frequently, wear a mask if they think they’ve been exposed to the virus, get vaccinated and boosted and isolate if sick. Free COVID-19 tests are available for students, and they can make a telehealth appointment with SHS to seek more information without risking passing on the virus.

Although guidelines are in place, the UNF community will rely on students to follow an honor system of testing and isolating if they are unwell. 

“If you’re sick, whether it’s COVID or not, don’t bring your germs here,” Dr. Morrison said. “Please stay home if you’re sick.”


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