Two years ago this month, the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. Two years later, the pandemic is still raging, in no small part because of counterproductive human behavior. Meanwhile, USF faculty are figuring out how to hold classes on campus when something's in the air, especially since the message we are hearing is ... no mandates, minimal infrastructure, discontinuation of the campus reporting box assesscovid ... in a sentence, you are on your own. How did we get here?
Meanwhile, this is the season for New Years' resolutions, and we have some opportunities for UFF members who would like to become more involved...
The USF Chapter of the United Faculty of Florida will meet tomorrow Friday at 12 noon on Zoom. On the agenda: dealing with Omicron, chapter elections, the legislative session, and more. And here are the minutes for the previous meeting.
Any employee in the Bargaining Unit may attend, but you must have an invitation: contact the Chapter Secretary to get one.
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Many of our students are struggling during this crisis, and the USF Foundation is supporting the USF Food Pantries to help out. They are accepting non-perishable donations, but one can also make monetary donations for the pantries at St. Petersburg, Sarasota / Manatee, and Tampa.
Yes, we are on social media.
We are now in the first week of the fifth Covid semester, and hoping that the pandemic - like the 1918 pandemic - will fizzle out after three years. But a new variant has emerged, seemingly out of "the dark" - a reminder of how little we understand about this virus, how it interacts with people ... and how long this is going to continue. (And what the long-term risks and consequences are.)
The media has latched onto the news that Omicron appears to be "milder" than many previous variants (yes, there are lots of variants) in the sense that the proportion of sick people who get very sick seems to be smaller. But the World Health Organization doesn't want to call Omicron "mild"; for one thing, since Omicron is highly transmissible, a lot more people are getting sick a lot more rapidly, which means that the hospitals are again deluged - even with very young patients. Despite its "mildness," Omicron has the potential to overburden hospitals to the point that patients who would normally survive don't.
And Omicron has not been around long enough to enable us to determine the long-term effects of an Omicron infection, but considering that previous variants have had a statistically significant effect on the performance of European footballers - who tend to be young, healthy, and have access to excellent medical care - an Omicron version of Long Covid should be taken seriously.
The politicians who oversee USF's budget and appoint USF's trustees are not taking any of this very seriously. While the Omicron variant surges in Florida with up to seventy thousand new infections daily in Florida alone, many people are wearying of the precautions and ready to accept Florida Surgeon-General Joseph Lapado's statement that, "... it's really time for people to be living, to make the decisions they want regarding vaccination, to enjoy the fact that many people have natural immunity." After all, as Governor Ron DeSantis has repeatedly pointed out, if someone does get sick, they can always get monoclonal antibody treatment (although, ahem, it may or may not work - and this complacency approach has compromised Florida's response to the surge).
Focusing on colleges and universities, most institutions nationwide are reopening - but often with mask, testing, and vaccine mandates. Since there is an apparent correlation between the partisanship of a state government and whether its public colleges and universities have mandates, it is not surprising that Florida's public institutions are reopening without mandates - including USF. The United Faculty of Florida had initiating bargaining on a new Memorandum of Understanding, but after 136 days, the USF Board of Trustees Bargaining Team still has not responded to our second proposal. Meanwhile, UFF USF Chapter President Arthur Shapiro sent an open letter to USF President Rhea Lawstating that, "The United Faculty of Florida stands ready to assist our university in keeping our campus as healthy and safe as possible during these challenging times," and UFF (statewide) President Andrew Gothard sent an open letter to the Board of Governors of the Florida State University System stating that, "Public health policies should never be determined by political expediency in Tallahassee; instead, it is the local administrators, students, faculty, and community leaders who can determine how to best mitigate the impacts of the Omicron variant on their local campuses."
The political problem merely underlines the fact that a pandemic is not the result of a virus alone - it is the result of a virus interacting with a population. This means not only the behavior of the politicians but also of the public at large. According to the New York Times, as of last Saturday, 74% of all Americans have been vaccinated, 62% fully vaccinated, and 22% boosted; while these numbers are higher than those of every Eastern European NATO member, they are lower than those of every Western European NATO member. Refusal to take precautions also appeared during the 1918 pandemic; indeed, there is a long history of people behaving badly in pandemics (and on beyond refusals to take precautions).
On the other hand, one thing that the USF Administration probably could do without raising the governor's ire is fix the ventilation. During the past two years, experts have been expressing less concern about transmission via surfaces and more concern about transmission by air; Wired reports that some experts are re-examining assumptions about how viruses are spread by air and concluding that the social distancing recommendations broadcast at the beginning of the pandemic were inadequate. At any rate, the Centers for Disease Control and Ventilation has posted recommendations on upgrading ventilation systems to deal with airborne viruses like Covid. Of course, this costs money, but that's what the federal Covid funding was for.
For details on what faculty can do about Covid in their own classrooms, see the 10 January Extra.
Chapter Meeting tomorrow Friday, January 14, at 12 noon, via Zoom. All UFF USF members are welcome: for the Zoom link, contact the Chapter Secretary.the Chapter Secretary. Come and join the movement.
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