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USF, other state universities to return to pre-COVID levels by summer

Classes, social activities and athletics will resume fully by June 28.
Students walk on the University of South Florida's Tampa campus in September, near the start of a school year that will be remembered for its pandemic restrictions. University officials said Thursday that those restrictions will be lifted starting in late June.
Students walk on the University of South Florida's Tampa campus in September, near the start of a school year that will be remembered for its pandemic restrictions. University officials said Thursday that those restrictions will be lifted starting in late June. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]
Published May 6
Updated May 6

Activity on University of South Florida campuses will return to pre-coronavirus levels by June 28, USF president Steve Currall said Thursday.

The statement followed Wednesday’s announcement by the Florida Board of Governors that all 12 state universities would reopen under normal conditions for the upcoming academic year.

Currall said USF’s decision was made in consultation with the board and that it called for the resumption of “full in-person participation in athletic and social activities on our campuses, including fan participation in stadiums and arenas.”

The state has banned businesses, schools and government agencies from requiring people to show documentation that they received a vaccine — a concept known as vaccine passports. But the Board of Governors praised the state’s efforts make COVID-19 vaccines available, and Currall in his message “strongly encouraged” USF students, faculty and staff to get their shots before returning for the fall.

All state universities currently require other immunization records for students who wish to enroll.

“We realize that moving to this next phase — while very welcome news — raises many questions,” Currall said in his message. “USF will continue to closely coordinate with the (Board of Governors) and provide more details as soon as possible.”

At the University of Florida in Gainesville, provost Joe Glover sent a letter to faculty and staff last month saying the school expected to reopen to pre-pandemic levels in time for its Summer B session, including business travel and study abroad programs.

While some exceptions would be made, the university said, the majority of faculty and staff would be expected to return to campus.

“Subject to guidance from UF Health, we will relax the physical distancing requirements that have been in place,” Glover said in his message. “Whether or not we can relax the use of masks in the classroom remains to be seen. A growing body of evidence suggests that fully vaccinated people are less likely to have asymptomatic infection and less likely to transmit (COVID-19) to others. However, further investigation is ongoing.”

University of Florida students who disclose they are vaccinated with documentation will be exempt from being tested every two weeks.

At USF, faculty union president Art Shapiro said many faculty are not thrilled about returning so soon.

“I think people are a little nervous about it,” he said. “Especially people who are older; they don’t want to get COVID.”

I Kuan Chiu, a second-year student majoring in mass communications, said as an international student and someone who has been vaccinated, he’s looking forward to seeing a full return.

Standing on USF’s nearly empty Tampa campus, which transitioned to virtual learning after spring break to mitigate the virus’ spread, Chiu said much of his interaction of late on campus has been with non-USF people.

Though he said he had a course in person this semester, the experience wasn’t the same. ”There’s fewer people, the interaction between students (is) lacking,” he said.

Hayden Fulton, a doctoral student and instructor, said working on campus through the year has been a bit lonely, but returning by summer feels complicated.

“I understand the position the administration is in and that it may be true that students want more in-person experiences, but I’m a little nervous it’s a bit rushed,” Fulton said.

Currall said in his message the university “will soon provide further clarity on USF’s Future of Work for our employees, taking into consideration the many lessons we have learned during the past year.”