UF Health Screen, Test & Protect
How UF plans to reopen the campus amid a pandemic
University of Florida Health has begun an ambitious initiative to help faculty, staff and students return to campus as safely as possible, providing a bulwark against the novel coronavirus built on scientific measures that have long proved effective in limiting the spread of infectious disease.
The program, UF Health Screen, Test & Protect, uses the university’s public health expertise, in collaboration with the Department of Health, to guide the phased, gradual reopening of UF’s campuses. The program was launched in May.
UF Health Screen, Test & Protect cannot entirely eliminate the risk of contracting COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. But UF Health leaders said it can minimize coronavirus exposure when used in tandem with an adherence to physical distancing guidelines, handwashing and the wearing of masks or cloth face coverings when out in public.
This program is essential considering that health care experts predict that a vaccine for COVID-19 is at least months, if not more than a year, away.
The program is a data-driven endeavor to quickly identify and isolate the positive cases of the coronavirus that will inevitably emerge as time passes, UF Health officials said.
UF Health Screen, Test & Protect “is really the foundational element to allow us to bring back our students, our faculty and our staff to a safer environment,” said David R. Nelson, M.D., senior vice president for health affairs at UF and president of UF Health.
“Through it, we can quickly identify those who are infected so that we can protect the rest of the community and maintain a safe environment as we continue to fulfill the mission of a major public university,” he said.
Anyone returning to campus is screened using a short questionnaire that asks if they have any symptoms of COVID-19 or if they have been in contact with somebody who has tested positive for the coronavirus or who has symptoms of the illness.
Faculty, staff and students are then strongly encouraged to undergo a nasal swab, offered at no cost, to test for the coronavirus. Tests are mandatory for other students who work in clinical settings or in close proximity to research participants.
The Florida Department of Health, working with UF Health personnel, will conduct contact tracing of anyone infected by the virus. This involves interviewing the individual who tests positive to see with whom they recently interacted. These contacts are subsequently interviewed, with testing and self-quarantine strongly encouraged in cases of close contact. The original source of the infection remains confidential so that nobody subsequently contacted is told who might have exposed them to the virus.
“When you contact trace and quarantine people effectively, you really cut the legs out from under the epidemic,” said Michael Lauzardo, M.D., an infectious disease specialist who is deputy director of the UF Emerging Pathogens Institute.
“And then you can control it,” he added. “There is strong evidence that with contact tracing, which is an age old public health practice to control the spread of infectious disease, you can really blunt the epidemic and keep the curve flat.”
Research shows that if 20% or more of the contacts of a symptomatic person are traced and put into quarantine, then an epidemic can be controlled and the impact of a “second wave” can be reduced significantly, Lauzardo noted.
UF Health Screen, Test & Protect is really a straightforward concept, said UF Health Shands CEO Ed Jimenez. “The idea is simply that, when you can isolate, pinpoint somebody that’s been exposed, you are now down the road to limiting further exposure,” he said.
A key to the initiative, UF Health leaders said, is that everyone works together and takes ownership in maintaining a safe environment through their own personal habits. For example, anyone feeling ill is expected to stay home and notify UF of their illness.
“I want the faculty and students to know that, if we detect any little resurgence of COVID-19 in an individual or in a small group, whether it’s in a laboratory or a classroom or a dormitory, that we’re going to be on this,” said Joseph Glover, Ph.D., UF provost and senior vice president for academic affairs.
Visit https://coronavirus.ufhealth.org/screen-test-protect/ for more information on UF Health Screen, Test & Protect.