By Thomas Byrne
Despite the Delta variant of COVID-19 pushing hospitals around the country to the brink, the University of Tampa is confident that its plan to get all students back to in-person learning will help minimize the spread of the virus.
The Spartan Shield Health Safety Plan was created in September 2020 to help guide the UT community through the pandemic. Students should be able to look at this and find out what rules they have to follow, and where they need to follow them.
Wearing masks on campus, social distancing, and sanitizing all the equipment in classrooms were all key at the start. As the summer began, when many felt the pandemic could be coming to an end, UT was able to remove the physical distancing aspect from the plan.
Even though COVID-19 cases have been on the rise in some specific areas of the country, Stephanie Russell Krebs, vice president for student affairs, said students can still feel good about returning to campus, and that they should be excited about some of the changes they’ll find in this year’s safety plan.
“Physical distancing is removed,” said Krebs. “And something I think students will be excited about is we removed the residential moratorium, so guests will be allowed in the dorms.”
These types of changes may bring back a sense of normalcy to the student body. However, as cases of the Delta variant rise, the plan may need to be altered again.
“Our plan is built to be flexible; we meet regularly with the health department and Tampa General,” said Krebs. “Going away from face-to-face would really be a last resort.”
Perhaps the most effective way for students to work together to avoid a major outbreak on campus is to get the vaccine.
Due to Florida Senate Bill 2006, schools in Florida do not have the ability to require students to get the vaccine. But that does not mean schools cannot help in making vaccines more accessible to their students.
UT has a partnership with Wal-Mart, and with a grocery-style location just down the street from campus, students can pick up food while they get their vaccine.
“I am definitely in the camp of strongly encouraging vaccines,” said Krebs. “I try to use my voice as a leader to get people to take vaccines if they can.”
These efforts have made a difference, as some students have a much different outlook headed into this school year compared to their feelings last year.
Jett Rosenstein, a junior entrepreneurship major, is among those eager to get back in the classroom.
“After reading UT’s Spartan Shield safety plan, I feel great about returning to in-person classes,” said Rosenstein. “After two straight semesters of being online in some capacity…I am glad that UT understands the importance of getting back to in-person classes as quickly and as safely as possible.”
One of the main requirements expressed in the official safety plan is that every person must wear a mask while indoors. Over the summer, UT’s mask mandate was able to be relaxed, but now that Delta cases are increasing, the school has re-imposed its mask policy indoors.
“I definitely feel safe returning to campus,” said Jimmy Gerakios, sophomore sports management major.
Gerakios already had COVID-19, and he is ready for masks to not be mandatory.
“Many big universities in Florida have not made it mandatory, and I have not experienced college without a mask yet,” said Gerakios.
Other key policies within the safety plan include people who test positive for COVID-19 or who were exposed must go into quarantine. Additionally, the cleaning and sanitization practices already in place will go on in the same way.
While they cannot require it, the school has strongly encouraged students and staff multiple times through the safety plan and updates posted online to still get the vaccine.
UT has been able to remain on top of any possible COVID-19 outbreak taking place amongst students and staff. This year, the highest case count the school had in one week was 31 cases. While some policies have remained throughout the entirety of the pandemic, UT has allowed its plan to be fluid and adjust as more information comes out to the public.
The creators of the Spartan Shield Health Safety Plan have allowed the experts from Tampa, different parts of Florida, and from around the country to guide their decision making. The plan will likely continue to reflect new information as it becomes available.