President Frenk announces outdoor mask mandate and new COVID-19 testing protocols in Friday email

A discarded mask sits on the ground near the U statue on Aug. 27, 2021.
A discarded mask sits on the ground near the U statue on Aug. 27, 2021. Increased COVID protocols for UM students, announced Aug. 27, come as Florida continues to set new records for positive test results, with 27,584 new cases of COVID-19 reported on Friday. Photo credit: Jared Lennon

University of Miami President Julio Frenk announced changes to university COVID-19 protocol in an email to the UM community Friday, issuing an outdoor mask mandate for all students when in groups of four or more and instituting mandatory twice-weekly COVID-19 testing for unvaccinated students, effective Aug. 30.

“I realize many of you got vaccinated with an expectation that taking the responsible course of action would allow you more flexibility — freedom from masking and from testing,” Frenk said in an email to students and faculty. “Unfortunately, the pandemic has evolved. The delta variant is more dangerous and the number of infections in Florida this week has broken records.”

The announcement comes on a day when Florida set a daily record for positive test results, reporting 27,584 new cases of COVID-19 to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Friday. The previous high of 26,203 confirmed cases was set on Wednesday.

Frenk did not issue a student vaccine mandate in his announcement, which was emailed to the community two days after UM’s Faculty Senate unanimously approved a resolution calling for vaccination requirements for all UM constituents.

“COVID-19 has impacted everyone in our university community and in the world as a whole,” Faculty Senate Chair and professor Linda Neider said in a memorandum submitted to Frenk Thursday. “Vaccines are now easily accessible and known to be a key defense against the ravages of this virus.”

Neider says that while the updated policies on masking and testing will promote vaccination, the changes fail to fully address the issues raised in Wednesday’s senate meeting.

“These are obviously prudent actions for the next month or so, until we learn more about what path this virus will take,” Neider said. “From our perspective, however, we would also like to see close to 100% vaccination rates for everyone within the UM community, with exceptions only for those having clear medical exceptions and religious objections.”

UM’s COVID-19 dashboard has been updated to reflect data from the current semester, including vaccination rates for students, staff and faculty. The student vaccination rate across all UM campuses stands at 75.9% as of Aug. 27, according to the dashboard, which is slightly less than the 78.8% of over-18 Miami-Dade County residents fully vaccinated reported by the CDC on Aug. 27.

“A quick glance gives us reason to hope — and reason to proceed with caution,” Frenk said, referring to university vaccination rates. “While this percentage would have been satisfactory with the original strain, it is not high enough to prevent outbreaks with the more contagious delta variant.”

Coral Gables has the lowest student vaccination rate of all UM campuses, with 74.2% of enrollees vaccinated against COVID-19, compared to 87% at the Rosenstiel marine campus and 98.1% at the Miller medical campus, according to the dashboard. David Davila, a first-year student at the Miller School of Medicine, says he is not surprised at his school’s high vaccination rates.

“In terms of knowledge, the students and faculty here don’t deny that COVID-19 exists. They don’t deny the power of vaccines, masks or social distancing,” Davila said. “At the end of the day, you have people who fully know how dangerous these viruses are, and they are the most likely to take it seriously and mask up.”

Professor Ana Francois, a member of the Faculty Senate who serves on its General Welfare Committee, says she expects the Coral Gables campus vaccination percentage to rise as off-campus residents continue to submit their inoculation status before the Aug. 30 deadline.

“That’s going to go up very quickly very soon because I believe a lot of them haven’t uploaded their information yet,” Francois said.

The vaccination rate for all faculty and staff is at 89.6% as of Aug. 27, according to the COVID-19 dashboard, with another 4.4% receiving medical or religious exemptions. The deadline for vaccination, which is mandatory for all UM employees, was extended from Aug. 1 to Aug. 8 earlier this month. Frenk says the university is working with its staff to facilitate full compliance among employees who failed to meet the deadline.

The university is extending the operation of its on-campus “vaccination station” indefinitely, according to Frenk’s announcement. The temporary clinic, located in the Storm Surge room of the Whitten University Center, was set to cease operations at 5 p.m. on Thursday.

After addressing the changes to university policy in his message to students and faculty, Frenk lamented the continuation of strict COVID-19 protocols and urged the student body to do what it takes to return to normal.

“We all want to be on the other side of it,” Frenk said. “Until we are, we must put health — our own, that of our fellow ‘Canes and the well-being of our surrounding communities — first.”

Rahul Kumar contributed to the reporting in this article.