University system officials demand masks and vaccinations for students, faculty and staff

TALLAHASSEE – Saying it is “clear that the pandemic is not over,” senior university system officials are asking students and employees to wear masks on campus and receive booster shots to protect themselves against the COVID-19 as the spring semester prepares to begin.

The chairman of the state university system’s board of governors, Syd Kitson, and the system’s chancellor, Marshall Criser, made the request in a letter to students, faculty and staff posted to the board’s website on Wednesday.

“The best way to reduce the impact of COVID-19 on our campuses and communities is to protect yourself, your family and friends every day by following recommended precautions, including wearing masks, testing if necessary and full vaccination, including a booster, if you are able to do it, ”the letter said.

The spring semester begins next week amid an increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations driven, at least in part, by the highly contagious omicron variant of the coronavirus.

University of Florida faculty union leaders have asked school president Kent Fuchs to allow online classes to be held at the start of the semester.

“In order to mitigate the spread of COVID, the UFF (United Faculty of Florida) is requesting that our campus begin the spring semester in a remote online posture in terms of classroom delivery and assignments during the first three weeks of the quarter to assess next steps as it looks like the omicron variant may ramp up later in January, ”Paul Ortiz, history professor and president of the university faculty union, wrote on Tuesday in a report. -mail to Fuchs. “The added advantage of this approach is that we know from experience that courses offered in a distance modality are more suitable for families and accessible to students who have employment, childcare or personal care responsibilities. elderly. “

Fuchs responded to Ortiz on Wednesday, writing in an email that he “would let the bargaining team respond to elements specifically from the union.”

But Kitson and Criser in their letter promised that in-person learning would continue on all college campuses.

“Looking ahead to the spring semester, you can expect our 12 state universities to continue to offer a full range of university courses and degree programs and that the facilities will be fully utilized as needed. academic and extracurricular activities of each institution, ”the letter said.

Ortiz also demanded that Fuchs demand masks on the University of Florida campus. The university system has maintained a policy of optional masks throughout the pandemic, preventing universities from requiring face coverings but allowing schools to recommend masks and vaccines for people on campus.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and other Republican state leaders have opposed vaccination and mask warrants in various settings during the pandemic.

“While we recognize that our university has come under intense external pressure not to implement the masking and vaccination mandates, I nonetheless ask that you consider requiring the wearing of N95 masks on campus, Mandatory COVID as well as an aggressive campaign to ensure that all campus community members are vaccinated as soon as possible, ”Ortiz wrote.

Universities moved online classes and closed campuses in March 2020 as the pandemic hit the state. But ahead of the current school year, the board announced plans for normal “pre-pandemic” operations for all universities.

The State University System of Florida is pleased to announce that the 12 public universities plan to increase classroom occupancy to pre-COVID capacity by the 2021-22 academic year and return to operations pre-COVID, “the board of governors said in a May statement. 5 press release. “In addition, we plan to return to full in-person participation in sports and social activities on our campuses, including fan participation in stadiums and arenas.”

Kitson and Criser’s letter on Wednesday did not address sports and social activities until the spring semester.

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