By John Haughey
The Center Square
May 19, 2020
(The Center Square) – A State University System of Florida task force is developing guidelines for how Florida’s 12 public universities can safely welcome 420,000 students back onto campuses in August for fall semester. State University System Chancellor Marshall Criser III will present those proposals to the system’s 17-member Board of Governors on May 28.
“Our measured and thoughtful approach will be informed by science and medical professionals, and we are working hard to develop sound guidelines that enhance campus safety, as well as continue to meet the board’s rigorous academic performance and student success goals,” Board of Governors Chairman Syd Kitson said Monday.
The nation’s second-largest public university system sent students and staff home in March when school campuses across Florida were shuttered. As with the state’s 2.8 million K-12 pupils, university students finished spring semester attending classes remotely and doing coursework online.
The task force’s general proposals will guide each of the 12 universities’ plans, which will be presented to the Board of Governors on June 23.
University officials said a campus reopening plan, or a plan for continued remote curriculum, must be in place by mid-July to properly prepare for fall semesters.
Last week, the California State University system announced it plans to continue with remote instruction at its 23 campuses in the fall.
Monday’s State University System of Florida announcement came as “full phase one” of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ’Safe reopening plan went into effect with relaxed restrictions on restaurants, gyms and public gatherings.
Adding to the momentum Monday was Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa’s announcement it would reopen Thursday with “new and stringent ‘Safe and Sound’ program guidelines” that include mandatory face masks and temperature checks for all guests and staff.
“Hard Rock and Seminole Gaming have made a tremendous commitment to sanitary protocols and a safety-first mentality for both guests and team members,” Seminole Gaming CEO and Hard Rock International Chairman Jim Allen said.
Only 200 of the casino’s 800 hotel rooms will be open, and the Seminole Hard Rock Event Center will remain closed. On-site restaurants, including Hard Rock Cafe and Rise Kitchen & Deli, will reopen with social distancing requirements in place.
DeSantis has called on the state’s theme parks to submit reopening plans.
“Show us how you’re going to keep staff and people safe, and then have the endorsement of relative local officials in your area,” DeSantis said Monday, reiterating a similar call he made Friday.
Theme park operators, including Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, Universal Parks & Resorts and SeaWorld Entertainment, have not indicated when they will reopen.
“When you open a theme park, it’s not like you can just flip a switch and three days later do it. They’re going to need a lot of runway to know a date certain,” DeSantis said. “So I’m not saying this is going to happen tomorrow, but I think it’s prudent to solicit these plans so we know the direction we’re going.”
Disney reopened Shanghai Disneyland in China last week. On Wednesday, it will reopen the Disney Springs entertainment complex near Orlando.
Disney warned on its website Monday that despite safety measures, “an inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 exists in any public place where people are present. By visiting Disney Springs, you voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19.”
Escambia, Santa Rosa, Bay and Gulf counties have submitted vacation rental plans after DeSantis said he’d review them on a “case-by-case basis.”
All counties’ plans discourage renting to travelers from hot spots, including New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Louisiana. Escambia, Santa Rosa and Bay counties’ plans ban guests from states with 700 cases per 100,000 residents.