March 4: From the director of Screen, Test & Protect

Michael Lauzardo, MD, MSc; Director, UF Health Screen, Test & Protect; Deputy Director, Emerging Pathogens Institute; Associate Professor, Division of Infectious Diseases and Global Medicine; UF College of Medicine

Dear Campus Community,

In light of all the loss, suffering and costs imposed on humanity by the pandemic, it is easy to dismiss that the inability to indulge in the simpler comforts and routines of our lives all exact a toll that is difficult to measure. For me one of those simple comforts is going to the movies. I love going to the movies. Our daughter is our “movie kid” and our movie nights out are something I miss very much.

Change is a universal theme in cinema. That is why I like movies so much, not just for the escapism, but because I can more easily deal with change vicariously through the characters.  In fact, it is hard to imagine a movie where everyone is the same at the end as they were before at the start. Maybe that is why I am missing movies so much these days. Right now, It’s almost as if we are living in a sci-fi movie; a movie that will leave few if any of us the same as before this all started.

Change is the theme of this week’s update. Some of the changes are good, some not as good, but all of it is something we need to adapt to in order to keep us moving forward to end the pandemic, to get to the end of the movie if you will. I’ll do my best to highlight important changes and how that impacts where we are headed.

The Good

The number of new cases on campus continues to drop steadily. Last week we had the lowest weekly number of cases on campus since the week beginning July 26, and that is with the most testing we have ever had and cross-matching against the statewide database of new cases.

The 102 cases we identified among UF students, faculty, and staff last week represent an 11% drop from the week before. Alachua County is now reporting 1,000 fewer cases per week than it did the first week of January (1,279 first week of January vs. 221 last week). Progress on the vaccine front continues as well. In Alachua County, 82,200 vaccine doses have been administered, with 47,330 people receiving at least one dose and 34,870 completing the series. Almost 20% of adults and nearly 70% of people 65 and older in our community have been vaccinated.

The Not as Good

Despite the encouraging drop in cases we have experienced over the last seven weeks, this will likely plateau soon. The main reason for this is that good weather that leads to an expansion of safe outdoor activities, mask wearing with other safe practices, and natural immunity from previous infection can only do so much. Roughly 60% of the general population has neither been immunized nor infected and it is from this pool that cases will continue to emerge.

The vaccine efforts to date have had little if any impact on the trajectory of the pandemic. How can this be? By vaccinating older age groups, we have prevented the worst consequences — hospitalizations and deaths. That is a great thing and certainly the approach to take with a limited number of vaccines. However, almost three quarters of new cases are the result of transmission from people in their 20s, 30s and 40s. Until we start vaccinating them, regardless of risk factors, our impact on the pandemic will be limited. More concerning but still unclear is the impact from the circulating variants as the virus continues to evolve.

Changes and the Path Forward

The governor has issued a new executive order effective at 12:01 a.m. March 3. The order in effect opens up vaccination to school employees in K-12 and law enforcement 50 and older. College professors are not included in this group (we asked to be sure). Our team (UF Health Screen, Test & Protect, working to support the Florida Department of Health in Alachua County’s effort) will be taking care of K-12 school employees at our largest planned vaccination event this Friday at the Champions Club at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. We plan to vaccinate 3,000 people at this event, using health department doses. Thanks again to our hundreds of volunteers and of course the UF Athletic Association and Athletic Director Scott Stricklin and Chip Howard with UAA, who are so generous to the community with the use of UF athletic facilities for community vaccination events. The health department /UF Health collaboration is now offering three vaccine events a week, including an Eastside outreach clinic on Tuesdays, a drive-thru event at the Hull Road garage, and the stadium on Fridays. We did close to 2,500 vaccinations last week and plan to do 4,000 in total this week. Register for the county's waitlist.

I wrote recently that we thought UF Health was out of the vaccination business. However, UF Health just received some unexpected vaccine doses and will soon offer them to individuals 50 and older who have certain health risk factors as outlined by the governor’s executive orders. We are working on the logistics of this effort, to include UF employees, so expect to hear more shortly.

We now have a new weapon in our arsenal. We hope to see the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine come in to clinical use very soon. As most of you know, this vaccine is given as a single dose and does not have the same stringent temperature requirements as the vaccines currently in use, making it much easier to distribute to doctor’s offices and other vaccination sites. This is a change that will speed our progress forward.

Please review our current vaccine information on the UF Health Coronavirus website.

Reflecting on the Past Year

Every day we are each facing new twists and turns, just like the characters in a movie. Unlike those fictional characters, all of us at UF and UF Health have faced real-life challenges to our work and personal environments. Now that we’ve come upon one year of living with the pandemic, we’ve reflected on all that you and I have been through at the university. I invite you to see how far we have come and then consider the steps necessary for us to get back to what we call ‘normal.’ See our COVID-19 Reflections come to life.

How the Movie Ends

Unlike the movies I watch with my daughter on our movie nights, I can’t wait for this movie to end. And remember, this movie we are all living through will end. To have that happen sooner rather than later, we need to keep wearing those masks, encourage one another and not lose hope. We are almost there. When it’s your turn, be sure sign up to get the vaccine.

Michael Lauzardo, MD, MSc
Director, UF Health Screen, Test & Protect
Deputy Director, Emerging Pathogens Institute
Associate Professor, Division of Infectious Diseases and Global Medicine
UF College of Medicine