University Tells Professors to Stop Sending Students for Coronavirus Tests Over Coughing

February 17, 2020 Updated: February 17, 2020

After receiving complaints, the University of Florida (UF) has told its faculty members that they should not exclude students who may be visibly sick from class due to fears of the new coronavirus.

There has been no confirmed case of the coronavirus, called COVID-19, on the UF campus that hosts some 6,000 international students, but at least one professor reportedly asked coughing and sniffing students to leave class and be tested for the virus, reflecting anxieties about the disease’s spread amid Florida’s flu season.

“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 school’s provost, Joseph Glover, wrote to deans and department chairs in a notice obtained by Inside Higher Ed. “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.”

“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,” read the notice.

The UF school administration updated its disease-prevention policy on Feb. 11, requiring school employees and students who had recently returned from China, and those who would be subject to a 14-day self-quarantine mandated by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to be cleared by the university health services before they could return to work or class. Students who are self-quarantined are encouraged to reach out to faculty members to ensure no penalty for missing classes because of illness.

In late January, the UF’s student newspaper, Independent Florida Alligator, reported a rumor that a student’s family member traveled from  Wuhan, China, just before the mega-city came under coronavirus lockdown. The rumor reportedly spread among Chinese students via WeChat, a popular Chinese social media app.

A UF health official debunked the rumor, saying that although the university had identified four people who traveled from China to Gainesville, where the UF campus is located, none of them traveled from Wuhan.

By the time of this publication, 15 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed by the CDC in seven states: eight in California; two in Illinois; and one each in Arizona, Massachusetts, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin. No one in the United States has died from the virus.