Alachua County officials have called upon the University of Florida (UF) and Santa Fe College (SFC) to mandate masks for all students, faculty, and staff. The higher education institutions have rejected the request from the county commissioners.
Alachua County sent a letter to UF and SFC, located within Alachua County, last week asking them to join the county, the county school board, and the City of Gainesville in an effort to be of one accord in mandating masks.
“We owe it to our healthcare professionals, residents, students, employees, and especially the most vulnerable in our community to do what we can to stem the tide of this Delta variant surge,” the letter said.
The letter continued by citing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations for indoor mask wearing and noting that Alachua County is designated within a “high community transmission category.”
“The CDC has designated Alachua County as being in the high community transmission category, meaning 100 or more cases for every 100,000 people, and/or lab test positivity rate for COVID-19 that is 10% or higher,” the letter continued. “Because of the increased incidence of infection due to the Delta variant of COVID-19, the CDC now recommends that face masks are worn indoors by individuals who are vaccinated and unvaccinated as both can transmit the virus, and the Delta variant has proven to be more virulent than other widespread variants.”
UF President Kent Fuchs responded to the county commission with an email saying they do not have the authority to mandate masks on campus.
“I am responding to your September 9 letter urging the University of Florida to mandate masks, as Alachua County has done in your emergency order. Unfortunately, we do not read the State University System policymaking environment the way you describe in your letter. The university does not currently have the authority to take the actions you recommend. However, my colleagues and I will continue to strongly encourage masks indoors on campus until conditions improve sufficiently. We appreciate your partnership and look forward to moving our community forward together.”
David Bloom, Faculty Senate Chair, said the university’s policies are underneath Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis mask mandate ban, and lamented the university’s inability to institute a mask mandate.
“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.
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Grant Holcomb is a reporter at the Florida Capital Star and the Star News Network. Follow Grant on Twitter and direct message tips.
Photo “Pugh Hall at the University of Florida” by Spohpatuf. CC BY SA 3.0.