Health and Medicine People and Community

Town halls focus on importance of vaccine, masks

In three separate information sessions, University of Miami leaders shared important information about COVID-19, vaccination efforts, and what to expect when the fall semester begins.
Scenic view of the Shalala Student Center and Lake Osceola. Photo: TJ Lievonen/University of Miami
A scenic view of the Shalala Student Center and Lake Osceola on the Coral Gables Campus. Photo: TJ Lievonen/University of Miami

The University of Miami held a series of town halls this week with the University community to discuss the state of the pandemic, emerging variants of the COVID-19 virus, the importance of getting vaccinated to protect oneself and others, and steps the University is taking to ensure a safe and fruitful fall semester, which begins next week. 

The University will continue to rely on measures that allowed for zero instances of classroom transmission during the 2020-2021 academic year—masking, testing, contact tracing, and physical distancing guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with the added “incredibly powerful” tool of vaccination, said President Julio Frenk. 

“What gives me confidence as we face these new challenges is the resilience you have all demonstrated—something which is emblematic of our culture at the U and has been on prominent display throughout this experience,” Frenk added.  

On Tuesday, a town hall for employees of UHealth—University of Miami Health System and the Miller School of Medicine focused on the importance of being vaccinated, explored the dominance of the more aggressive and transmissible Delta variant and other emerging variants, and featured one employee, Doreen Ashley, executive director of nursing at UHealth, who shared that she was initially hesitant to get the vaccine but changed her mind after seeing patients get seriously ill, dying, and dying alone. 

“It is really, really important that people get the vaccine,” said Ashley, who noted that she was able to convince her husband and children to also get vaccinated. “I encourage everyone to get the vaccine.” 

In addition to Frenk, panelists included Dr. Roy E. Weiss, chief medical officer for COVID-19 and chair of the Department of Medicine at the Miller School of Medicine; Dr. Dushyantha Jayaweera, principal investigator for the Janssen trial and a professor of medicine in the infectious disease research unit at the Miller School; and Dr. David Andrews, who is part of a team conducting sequencing of positive COVID-19 tests administered to patients at UHealth Tower and Jackson Health System. Andrews said the most recent sequencing shows that 97 percent of samples are the Delta variant, which at this time is dwarfing other variants. 

“Right now, we’re sitting in a hot bed, if you will, of COVID,” Weiss said. “We need to be able to contain this virus and we have two primary ways we can do that. The first is wearing a mask. It’s imperative that you wear your mask. … The second thing is vaccination. It’s really important to get vaccinated today.”

On Wednesday, two additional town halls were held. One was for faculty and staff of the Coral Gables and Marine campuses; the other addressed students and families. Mary Lanham, chief marketing and communications officer, moderated both events.

Participants for the faculty and staff town hall included Jeffrey Duerk, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost; Jacqueline A. Travisano, executive vice president for business and finance and chief operating officer; Erin N. Kobetz, vice provost for research and scholarship; Weiss; and Frenk.

The town hall for students and families included Frenk; Duerk; Weiss; Kobetz; Patricia A. Whitely, senior vice president for student affairs; and Dr. Emilio G. Volz, the new director of the Student Health Service, who stressed the importance of vaccines to students. “Together we can get through this,” he said.

As the University prepares to welcome students back for the start of classes on Aug. 23, the Division of Student Affairs has prepared a robust orientation schedule for first-year students, with sophomore programming planned for the third week of September, said Whitely. She also announced a vaccine incentive program with weekly prizes for all eligible students—undergraduate, graduate, medical, and law students who have received the COVID-19 vaccine. 

The University has partnered with Walgreens to offer a vaccine clinic on the Coral Gables Campus during ’Cane Kickoff orientation week and the first week of classes. 

The Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines will be available Aug. 17-20 and Aug. 23-26 from 1 to 5 p.m. at the StormSurge Room at the Hurricane Food Court. 

Visit for Frequently Asked Questions for faculty and staff on the Coral Gables and Marine campuses.
Watch Wednesday’s town hall for faculty and staff: 
Watch Wednesday’s town hall for students and families: 
Watch Tuesday’s town hall:
Medical Campus and UHealth employees can get answers to their questions here: Frequently Asked Questions about the COVID-19 vaccine

Visit for the latest COVID-19 information and resources.