NICEVILLE, Fla. (WMBB) — The ongoing pandemic has changed what going back to school looks like this fall. With colleges about a month into the 2020-2021 school year, many have been implementing a combination of online and in-person learning.
According to data collected by The New York Times, 43 colleges and universities in Florida reported 5,801 cases of COVID-19 on campuses.
One of them is Northwest Florida State College, a larger community college serving between 6,500 and 7,000 students across its six campuses.
“We have had 15 confirmed cases since March 15,” said Julie Schrodt, Northwest Florida State College executive director of communications.
One of the other schools that reported cases is Florida State University, which has seen a sizeable outbreak on its Tallahassee campus with 1,396 reported cases. FSU Panama City director of advancement Becky Kelly said that due to the difference in size, the outbreak was isolated to the school’s Tallahassee campus.
Unlike FSU, Northwest Florida State College does not have on-campus housing. Schrodt said that the cases the campus has seen have been coming from outside the campus and are not spreading.
“We don’t have any clusters,” she said. “It is one-off cases that we are finding.”
The most recent cases were two reported over the past weekend, according to the school’s website, with seven out of the campus’s 15 total cases reported in September. Schrodt said that there was one case on the school’s Fort Walton Beach campus, and all others were isolated to the Niceville campus.
“Until Governor DeSantis reopened Phase 3 this past Friday, we were doing pre-screening here on the campus,” Shrodt added. “In the last month we’ve pre-screened 7,455 entrants to the campuses, main campus specifically, and we only had four presenting symptoms of COVID-19.”
Northwest Florida State College is also open with limited access in response to the virus, offering a majority of its courses online or as a hybrid online and in-person.
But for some courses at Northwest Florida State College, adjusting to the virtual learning process has been more difficult than others.
Carl Hohenstein, Northwest Florida State College Fire Academy lead instructor, said that although the Fire Academy has been able to train in person, it has been a challenge teaching lectures virtually.
“Even though we’re going over books and lectures, it’s always nice to get a feel for what the students and are learning,” Hohenstein said. “And they always get a lot more out of what they’re learning when we do in-person lectures.”
Lincoln Williams, a student at the Fire Academy said he agrees.
“I think there’s an element there that we would like to receive some of that training from the instructors,” Williams said. “We get the lectures online and then during the skills days, like today, we get that experience piece that we’ve been wanting.”
With Florida moving into Phase 3 of reopening, precautions on campus are relaxing and courses are headed back to the classroom.
Next week, Hohenstein said his program will be going back to full in-person learning.
Shrodt said she is hopeful that the reopening will not exacerbate the COVID-19 cases on campus.