How will the University of Florida’s Reopening Plan Affect the City of Gainesville?

The University of Florida posted its reopening plan for the fall semester on June 26th, which includes several key measures to ensure student and staff safety.

Although possible that not all students will return to campus (as part of the reopening plan includes many online classes), a significant influx of students can be expected, potentially impacting the city of Gainesville in a variety of ways.

Despite the enforcement of mask usage, physical distancing and other measures, there is a concern for how students will behave off-campus, where their behavior cannot be closely monitored.

Prior to the pandemic, students enjoyed the thrill of attending parties at fraternities and sororities. However, as the situation evolved, UF has required fraternities and sororities to submit their plans to maintain health and security, which require approval before the groups can open their doors to fellow students.

Bars, clubs and restaurants in Gainesville may also be significantly impacted by the incoming surge of students and their behaviors regarding the virus.

Students that crave a nightly stroll through the town during these times should act with discretion as any lack of cautiousness may result in the temporary or permanent closing of these businesses.

Despite the risk, however, these small businesses also depend on student culture and the student population for their financial success.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Gainesville has experienced a continuous increase in unemployment since February. The numbers have more than tripled since then, with an unemployment rate of 8.0% recorded in May.

Correspondingly, UF authorities required all classes to be online starting in March, after a number of students tested positive for the virus. Many students left town after this announcement, and the unemployment statistics may be correlated to the vast departure of the majority of local small business’ clientele: college students.

A surge of students might be exactly what these establishments and the Gainesville economy need to lower the unemployment rate.

Additionally, the public transit system of Gainesville may also experience several effects brought on by the reopening plan.

Those that rely on the Regional Transit System to travel should be wary of potential changes to their daily routine as many UF students utilize its services alongside residents.

RTS has reduced its hours of operation and is currently enforcing a mandatory use of masks and physical distancing measures for passengers and drivers.

These regulations limit the number of passengers that can be accommodated on each ride. RTS riders, then, may need to plan accordingly in the case of long waits due to these constraints in addition to an increase of overall passengers brought on by incoming students. 

At this point, the extent of the impacts on Gainesville brought on by the reopening plan remain unclear, yet these are some changes that could be expected in the upcoming weeks.

Featured image: Gainesville, Alachua County, Florida (Unmodified photo by Michael Rivera used under a Creative Commons license. https://bit.ly/3i1tCJD)

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