Alachua County wants UF, Santa Fe College to mitigate COVID-19 with mask mandates
The school walked back its initial masking directive.

UF Monuments and Buildings
Faculty rebellion brewing against UF's lax COVID-19 mitigation strategies.

The resurgence of COVID-19 infections caused by the delta variant appears to be straining town-gown relations in the state’s biggest center of higher education.

Alachua County is asking the University of Florida and Santa Fe College to do more than recommend face coverings for students, faculty and staff; the County Commission last week sent a letter asking them to require it.

A letter sent to the presidents at both schools said that the county had exempted the two institutions from the requirements of a new countywide state of emergency when Alachua County declared the emergency early last month due to the COVID-19 resurgence. But recent developments have the County Commission rethinking those exemptions given the climbing number of cases and high positivity rate of COVID-19 in Alachua County while little or no mitigation strategies have been employed at the two institutions.

“We know that last year they had the ability to do it (mandate masks), and they did it,” said Mark Sexton, county spokesman. “So we’re asking them to do the right thing again.”

Or, they might have to, according to a letter Ken Cornell, County Commission chair, wrote in a letter dated Thursday to UF President Kent Fuchs and SFC President Paul Broadie. “Either of your respective boards could institute these requirements, or, as a less preferable option, the county could remove the state university and college systems from its exemption, thus applying the (emergency declaration) requirements to these properties,” Cornell wrote.

Steve Orlando, a UF spokesman, said the university was reviewing the letter but was not ready to respond when contacted by Florida Politics.

According to an email from David Bloom, Faculty Senate Chair, university officials are claiming that the university system falls under the policies set by Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has prohibited requiring masks.

“I share the faculty’s frustration with the restrictions that the state put on our university,” Bloom wrote in an email to a faculty member declining an emergency meeting of the Faculty Senate on the matter.

But county officials say neither UF nor SFC has produced a document that shows that the schools can’t require indoor masking because of the Governor’s edicts.

Mark Hostetler, a professor in UF’s Department of Wildlife, Ecology and Conservation, said that the faculty is ready to declare “no confidence” in the university’s fall COVID-19 strategy. This fall was the first time the Gainesville campus has been bustling with the entire student body since the pandemic in early 2020.

There are about 70,000 students attending university and college classes in the Gainesville area.

“It’s not a safe environment,” Hostetler said. “There’s no masking mandate, there’s no vaccination mandate, and there’s no good contact tracing and screening.”

During the day, most everyone is masking, Hostetler said. But when he drives downtown at night, he said it looks like there’s no pandemic happening at all.

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected]


7 comments

  • Domino

    September 13, 2021 at 7:39 am

    DeSantis will be in the City of Alachua today.

    Reply

  • FP Monitor

    September 13, 2021 at 12:28 pm

    It’s a big mistake is to respond to anything Tom posts. He’s an ignorant Trumpster hack simply looking for attention. Do yourself and all of us a big favor …… ignore all of his return comments. Maybe the internet troll will go away.

    Reply

  • Alex

    September 13, 2021 at 12:42 pm

    Those damn commie liberals are always trying to keep me and my friends safe and alive!

    How dare they take better care of me than I take care of myself and my family!

    It’s my right to make myself and my family sick and possibly die!

    Reply

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    September 13, 2021 at 6:14 pm

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    Reply

  • Vernon

    September 14, 2021 at 8:36 am

    I hope Governor DeSantis cleans house and Fires all these clowns. This is a Freedom State. I’m tired of these trash liberals with the ugly rat faces trying to force their Marxist garbage onto people. Fine them $5000 for everytime they ask about a Vaccine, and have the Legislature pass a Statewide Mask Ban on Mandates. Start terminating the rogue officials, Ron and hit them with $5,000 Fines for each email or question they ask about vaccines. This State is run by Patriots, not garbage Radical Marxists.

    Reply

    • PeterH

      September 14, 2021 at 8:40 am

      It’s true! You and your ilk have turned all of Florida north of Orlando into a “STATE OF FREEDUMB!”

      CONGRATULATIONS!

      Reply

      • Vernon

        September 14, 2021 at 9:49 am

        UF and Santa Fe are under State Jurisdiction, not local flunkies in Alachua. Slap Fines on them every single time they inquire about vaccines. Hit them with massive $5,000 Fines and send them warning letters of termination if they continue to break our laws. The FL Legislature needs to expand the $5,000 Fine to fine jurisdictions who illegally try Masks Mandates against the Governor’s Executive Order.

        Reply

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