UM community remains cautiously optimistic as Florida sets COVID records

The University of Miami averaged just over four positive COVID test results a day among non-residential and residential students from Aug. 19-25, according to UM’s COVID dashboard, a significant improvement from the 2020 average of nearly 15 positive daily tests over the same time period.

The delta variant has driven a rise in COVID-19 infections, especially in Florida. Unvaccinated residents of South Florida are far more susceptible to all COVID variants, accounting for over 90% of infections statewide.
The delta variant has driven a rise in COVID-19 infections, especially in Florida. Unvaccinated residents of South Florida are far more susceptible to all COVID variants, accounting for over 90% of infections statewide. Photo credit: Julia Sanbe

While the university has avoided a wide-scale outbreak, Florida continues to set new records in daily COVID infections, reporting 26,202 positive test results to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Wednesday, its highest total since the start of the pandemic.

Valentine St. Hilaire, a professor in the department of chemistry teaching a class of 103 students this semester, said that to continue to prevent the spread of COVID-19, both students and faculty must act responsibly.

“I have a seven year old at home, so I hope that while I’m doing my part to keep the students safe, they’re doing their part as well to not allow me to transmit something back to my household,” St. Hilaire said.

St. Hilaire added that he expects in-person classes to continue with minimal risk due to the experience and knowledge the UM community has gained since last year.

“I personally feel comfortable showing up to in-person classes,” he said. “There’s a lot of experience from the past semesters that we got about how to interact in and outside of the classroom, and I think that knowledge should be able to help us with future coronavirus case spikes.”

Undergraduate students similarly expressed confidence that tackling COVID-19 outbreaks in the past has prepared the university to safely manage students’ return to campus. Veronica Gilbert, a junior biology major and a First Year Fellow, said that vaccination should be the school’s main priority.

“With people coming in from all over the country, it’s important to ensure that they are vaccinated so that different strains aren’t all coming to one place,” Gilbert said. “Freshman are walking into a new environment for the first time, so it’s important that the university makes the transition that much easier by ensuring their health is protected.”

97% of the patients with COVID-19 in the Broward Health System are unvaccinated, Broward Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Joshua Lenchaus told WPLG Local 10 News Thursday. As of Aug. 26, Jackson Health Memorial Hospital was treating 636 COVID-19 patients, with 110 of the hospital’s 132 ICU beds occupied by patients with the coronavirus.

Despite the high number of infections reported by local hospitals, university students are cautiously optimistic that if vaccination rates continue to rise, UM can avoid reaching similar heights.

“Of course the chances of peer-to-peer transmission are lower now,” said David Davila, a first-year student at the Miller School of Medicine. “But, if the university keeps hosting events where even one or two unvaccinated students are next to someone who is sick but doesn’t know it, you can guess what happens a couple months down the road.”

While the undergraduate campus has implemented certain policies to prevent the spread of COVID-19 variants, such as frequent sanitation of university facilities and offering dining dollar prizes between $1000 and $5000 as vaccination incentives, students and faculty at the Miller School of Medicine said that until all students are vaccinated, the spread will continue.

“If you have tens of thousands of students gathered on one campus, who are maskless outside with some who aren’t even vaccinated, it’s inevitable that you will see hospitalizations and sickness,” said Dr. Josef Newman, a neonatologist at Jackson Memorial Hospital.

Newman added that simple precautions can go a long way, especially with each COVID-19 variant increasing in transmissibility.

“I’m fine with college students going out, but when they come back to the classroom, getting tested, wearing a mask, and frequently sanitizing are simple yet very effective ways to prevent viral particles from entering your system,” he said.

The delta variant has a four-day incubation period, two days shorter than the original strain of COVID-19, according to the CDC. This means that those who contract the delta variant become contagious more quickly, making it easier for an infected individual to spread the virus to others before they realize they are sick.

Second-year medical student Jean Corvington, who currently shadows physicians in emergency medicine, intensive care and primary care units, said that COVID-19 awareness and precautions on the Miller campus exceed those of the undergraduate campus due to the knowledge health practitioners have gained firsthand.

“Doctors, nurses, medical students and anyone else who has seen patients hospitalized with respiratory problems, especially COVID-19, have first hand experience on how bad it can get,” he said. “After seeing patients go on a ventilator and fight for their life, sometimes with very negative outcomes, people here know to keep their masks on and stay vigilant.”