What do you do if a professional or student staff member tests positive for COVID-19? The University of South Florida (USF) Campus Recreation had to answer that question last week.
After several campus recreation student employees reported they were not only exposed to but had tested positive for COVID-19, on September 13, USF made the call to close its facilities. It was a difficult decision, but the choice followed USF’s overall proactive and conservative approach to the virus.
“I wasn’t taking any chances,” said Jay Souza, the director of Campus Recreation. “I want to be as proactive as we can in this for the safety and interest of our students, and I had worked with the university officials to do that … I wanted to get ahead of any potential outbreaks.”
Meeting with his team on Sunday, Souza said Michael Cocagnia, the assistant director of marketing and membership, updated the website and social media platforms immediately to reflect the closure of the two rec facilities that had been open on campus. Members were notified via the InnoSoft Fusion app, and the university put out official communication to the media. Each professional staff member reached out to the department’s 300 to 400 student employees to let them know what was going on. All staff transitioned back to working from home, versus their limited in-person rotating schedule they had been following.
On Monday, September 14, the two rec facilities that had been open were disinfected. “The university has a very good system,” shared Souza. “They have a special team of highly-trained sanitizing folks with sprayers and everything else. They went in right away and they sprayed down our facility, made sure we were good to go.”
For now, Souza said their reopening date is up in the air and will be based on conversations with the campus’ task force and other players in the prevention of COVID-19 at USF. One thing he did note is he’d rather not reopen only to close again, especially when the campus is slated to be closed from Thanksgiving until the new year.
The reception of the closure has been met with understanding. However, Souza said they’ve made sure to stress they are simply being cautious versus there being an outbreak. “We are trying to help people understand this is done out of precaution,” he explained.
Because at USF, precaution is the name of the game. Souza said with 10-foot distances between all machines, rec facility capacities at 15% of their normal numbers, and required one hour and 15-minute slot reservations, they’ve put in stringent regulations. In fact, between reservation slots — which are also done on the Fusion app — staff take 15 minutes to disinfect the building while students wait in the gymnasium holding area.
Beyond this, USF as a whole uses a symptoms app called Archivum. Every day, students on campus get an email prompting them to answer four questions in the app — questions like, “Are you feeling sick?” or “Have you been in contact with any COVID-19 positive cases?” Once answered, students will either get the green light that they can go on campus or will be followed up with for COVID-19 testing. They have to show their symptoms result as well as their reservation when showing up to the recreation facilities.
And despite all of those safety steps, COVID-19 is still there. It seems no matter what regulations or safety guidelines you have in place, it can still happen. As such, Souza said just stick to reinforcing your guidelines and be ready to make the hard call should it come to it. In the end, it’s all about protecting students and staff.
“I particularly felt as if I didn’t want to put any other students at risk,” he said. “We are just being very cautious.”