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Changes Across UT to Combat COVID-19

By Re’nesia Mills

The University of Tampa has made various changes this semester to prioritize the health of students, including changes to the health and wellness center, a newly formed partnership with Rapid Trace, and budget cuts were made.

Operations and protocols at the Dickey Health and Wellness Center look different from previous semesters.

“Students must call the health center to schedule an appointment,” said Sharon Charles, director of medical services at UT. “No walk-ins.”

The health center has also done what they can to comply with UT’s Spartan Shield Health Safety Plan and Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.

“No more than five students are allowed in the waiting area at once,” said Charles. “The chairs are more than six feet away from each other. On average we have one to two patients waiting in the waiting area.”

When it comes to safety measures to track and contain the coronavirus, the health center has been conducting COVID-19 tests as well as partnering with Rapid Trace to track as many positive cases as possible. However, for students who are just wanting to get tested to make sure they have not contracted the disease, they have to visit off-campus facilities.  

“At this time, we are not testing asymptomatic contacts as it does not change the outcome,” said Gina Firth, associate dean of wellness. “Due to the nuances of COVID-19, a person who has been exposed needs to test on day four or five after exposure.”

Faculty at UT seem to support the partnership between the university and Rapid Trace.

“The main goal of the contact tracers is to track down and quarantine individuals that have been exposed, and to regularly check in with those who are in isolation and quarantine,” said Firth. “The process is very thorough.”

Some may still hold some reservations about the new partnership.

“I think it’s a good idea if it works,” said Kathy Lockwood, staff assistant of the department of communication.”I don’t know if it works.”

A UT student has voiced some concerns about the effectiveness of the contact tracing process.

Morgan Culp, senior double major in journalism and communication, sought treatment from South Tampa Immediate Care the second week of the semester for reasons unrelated to COVID-19. She was told that she had a low-grade fever and needed to get tested for COVID-19.

“I called Rapid Trace as soon as I got tested to try to ask them what to do,” said Culp. “The girl that answered the phone had no idea what she was talking about and she couldn’t tell me what to do. She simply advised me not to go to a party and go to class if I felt up to it.”

According to Culp, she decided to quarantine herself while she awaited her test results because she did not want to risk infecting anyone in case her test results came back positive.

“I did send a complaint about Rapid Trace,” said Culp. “The lead contact tracer called me back, checked in on me, and apologized for my experience.”

Although Culp’s situation ended up being resolved, she still holds some concerns about Rapid Trace.

“I hope they are training the people in Rapid Trace to keep people safe because it sounds like students are not being kept safe if they are being told to go back to school even if they have symptoms or are awaiting results,” said Culp. “From my experience they have a lot of work to do and it sounds like it is not very organized.”

In addition to the new safety protocols made on campus, the university also decided to make budget cuts throughout the university that faculty and staff seem to understand and support.

“For the most part, I think they have made some good decisions because they have kept people working,” said Lockwood. “We didn’t get any raises and there was a bit of a hiring freeze, but at least we didn’t have to lay off people, as far as I know, so I think UT did a pretty good job with handling that part.”

Others were not surprised by the university’s decision to make the budget cuts. 

“I think faculty were aware that this was potentially going to happen,” said Michael Staczar, assistant dean of the college of arts and letters. “I’m sure if they were asking for budget cuts across the institution, there was a definite need for it to occur. Those of us on campus have noticed that there’s fewer students around, which means there’s fewer dollars coming into the university.”

It is unclear whether or not budget cuts took place in order to pay for the services of Rapid Trace. 

“The University of Tampa does not disclose budget information or contractual agreements with vendors,” said Kevin Lafferty, vice president of administration and finance. 

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