The University of Florida has advised faculty members that they cannot exclude students over coronavirus fears, according to a Friday report from The Gainesville Sun. There have been no cases of the deadly virus at the university, however, at least one professor had reportedly tried to shut out students with flu-like symptoms like coughing.
The Gainesville-based campus is home to more than 6,000 international students, only a small fraction of which are from China – the country where the current outbreak originated.
An official statement was issued to the deans and department chairs of the University of Florida via email on behalf of the school’s provost Joseph Glover, which was obtained by the Fresh Take Florida news service.
"We are aware that some instructors have asked students who are showing visible cold- or flu-like symptoms to leave class and return with a letter from the Student Health Care Center confirming that they do not have coronavirus," the statement began. "Please remind your instructors that no cases of coronavirus have been reported at UF or elsewhere in Alachua County and that this area has not been identified as an area of public health concern by the CDC."
The statement continued, "While instructors are encouraged to care for their students and their health, please inform your instructors that they are not to excuse a student from class to confirm they are free of the coronavirus."
Churchill Roberts, a grievance chair for the university's United Faculty of Florida told The Gainesville Sun he did not agree with the actions of his colleagues.
"If an instructor suspects that somebody has a contagious disease, they should immediately report that to the department chair, and the chair should report that to the dean," he said in reference to the incident.
The university's spokesman Steve Orlando echoed the same sentiments.
"That's not how we handle cases here, and there are more appropriate ways to do that," he said. "We're hopeful that will be the end of it."
Prior to the announcement from the provost's office, the university required a 14-day quarantine for faculty, staff and volunteers who had recently traveled to China. Only four individuals were found to have visited China over January's winter break, though the university confirmed none of them had traveled through Wuhan – the city at the center of the outbreak.
Faculty members were told that they would have to be cleared by the university's health services before they could resume their position. However, the campus-wide quarantine was ended on Sunday.
The university also said it was monitoring the health of students who had family members that recently arrived from China before the coronavirus quarantine.
Other campus activities have been impacted by the illness's global spread and subsequent fears. The University of Florida's Chinese Student Association postponed its Feb. 3 spring festival to Feb. 23 since several members had traveled to China over the break. All study abroad programs university-related travel for employees to China have been suspended until further notice.
There are over 73,300 confirmed coronavirus cases in China at the time of publication, according to the World Health Organization's live tracker. The death toll related to the illness has climbed up to 1,873.