Florida Gulf Coast University verifying that students on campus complete a daily health screening app

Pamela McCabe Fort Myers News-PressPublished 6:00 AM EDT Sep 23, 2020Adayshia Roman and Steven Gutierrez snuck

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Adayshia Roman and Steven Gutierrez snuck in some resistance training Tuesday before their afternoon classes at Florida Gulf Coast University.

But before the students could break a sweat, they had to show proof they filled out a health screening app that is part of the Fort Myers-based school’s COVID-19 health protocols.

What staff behind the counter were looking for: a bright green checkmark.

The symbol, which is accompanied by a name, date and time of completion, indicates a student has self-reported they are in good health and haven’t been around anyone who has been exposed to or tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.

Although the health screening has been a requirement of students since the start of the fall semester on Aug. 17, a rise in positive cases and low app participation led the university to put verification spots in place for students.

These checkpoints are set up at the following locations:

  • all campus recreation areas, including on-campus gyms, pools and fields used for intramural and sport clubs.
  • all housing and campus life locations.
  • upon entry to offices for Student Success & Enrollment Management as well as Student Engagement offices and meetings.

Fewer than 2,000 students, or less than 13%, are completing the daily screening app, explained Susan Evans, the vice president and chief of staff for the university. There are around 15,000 students enrolled in fall courses, and about 4,000 students live in campus housing.

“We don’t have a specific goal, but we know the student numbers need to increase,” Evans said.

Since the fall semester began more than a month ago, 67 people tied to the university have tested positive for COVID-19. The university reported that 64 were students — 24 live in one of the three residence halls, while 40 live off campus but commute to classes or other activities.

Evans expects the list of checkmark verification locations to expand in the future. 

The app is free to download and use. Once the questionnaire is completed, the app will show one of three symbols:

  • A green checkmark means a person is clear to come to campus.
  • A yellow caution sign means someone could be showing some symptoms and that they need to take precautions.
  • A red “X” means a person should stay home.

An investigator with the FGCU case management system will reach out to any user whose health app reveals a person has tested positive for COVID-19, are waiting for test results, have been in contact with someone who has tested positive or are showing symptoms typically associated with the virus. They will review next-step guidance to the individual.

The cost of the Veoci screening app and the university’s seven-member case management team comes at a cost of $704,400 for the fall semester.

During a spot-check, students who show a red "X" will be asked to leave campus, Evans said.

“More likely, students either have not downloaded the app or are not using it," she said. "In these cases, they will be asked to download it, complete the questionnaire and show a green checkmark before entering the facility.”

Filling out the app has been an “everyday thing” for Roman, 22, who is a junior studying forensic studies.

“It’s OK with me,” she said. “It doesn’t bother me at all.”

But Roman questioned the validity of the app results, explaining that anyone can choose to fill out the app without being honest to their behavior and symptoms and “still walk in the door.”

The checkmark, she added, “is not really going to prove it.”

Gutierrez, 20, agreed, saying that he feels like false self-reporting is going to “skew” the data for the university. But he believes the app fits with the school’s safety precautions during the pandemic.

“I think it’s good to have some precaution,” said Gutierrez, who is a junior studying bio-engineering.

Employees are also required to fill out the app before coming to campus. Evans said staff and faculty have "a much greater participation rate," with more than 1,000 employees using the app. The school employs about 1,480 faculty and staff.

Employees do not need to show their own green checkmarks when they arrive on campus.

More: COVID-19: Tracking confirmed cases at SWFL schools and colleges

Since Labor Day, 44 students and one employee have tested positive. Of the nine cases reported Monday, all were students.

A fear among administrators is that a spike in cases will lead to a total shift to virtual learning as was seen in the spring semester when concerns about the coronavirus spiked.

Last week, FGCU President Mike Martin made it clear in both a videotaped campus message and in a speech to the board of trustees that the university will be stepping up the consequences for anyone who disregards the school’s policies for wearing masks, social distancing and avoiding large gatherings.

He said rule-breakers would be sanctioned as needed by the code of conduct, which could leave individual students suspended through the rest of the academic year. A suspension from one of the state’s universities is a suspension from all 12, he warned.

Already, the Sigma Chi and Phi Delta Theta fraternities have been suspended, accused of hosting large parties that disregarded the COVID-19 safety guidelines for students. The university is continuing to hear reports of other students ignoring the rules.

In case you missed it: FGCU suspends two fraternities for reportedly ditching COVID rules during large, off-campus parties

And: FGCU president says students could end up suspended for breaking COVID rules

Evans touched on this in a memo to students and employees Friday.

"…We’re not going to have a lot of chances to get this right, Eagles, and we need everybody pulling in the same direction to support the health and safety of our campus and greater communities," Evans wrote. "Students, please encourage your fellow students to follow the COVID-19 rules so we can keep this semester going."

See more: Here's how FGCU's new COVID-19 health screening app works

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