July 29, 2020
Dear UT Community,
It’s hard to believe, but we’re only a month away from the start of the fall semester. I know that this summer break has been anything but ordinary. The COVID-19 pandemic has altered every aspect of our lives — from everyday things like going to a restaurant or getting a haircut to the most important things like visiting our loved ones, advancing our work and careers and, here at UT, continuing our mission to educate, conduct visionary research and change the world. All of our hopes and ambitions for the future are being set against a backdrop of uncertainty, but through it all, I have continually been inspired and amazed by your resilience, creativity and perseverance. From the front-line health care workers who have saved lives and cared for the sick to the staff members who have worked nonstop since the pandemic hit, the UT community is as strong and vibrant as it has ever been, and that’s because of you.
As we plan and prepare for the fall, the university is continuing to closely monitor the spread of COVID-19 in Austin, throughout Texas and across the country. Our goal is to create a safer environment for learning, teaching and research on campus, and that means some students, faculty and staff will remain at home and learn and work online in the fall. This will enable us to reduce density and maintain social distance whenever and wherever possible.
Below, you will find a few important policy updates and announcements related to COVID-19. As a reminder, the key details of our fall reopening plan are available on the Protect Texas Together website. We also recently launched a COVID-19 dashboard to monitor the number of confirmed cases within our community. Please keep an eye on both of these resources in the days and weeks ahead. We will be updating them continually.
Students Self-Quarantine Prior to Campus Arrival
In order to help prevent COVID-19 infections on our campus and in our local Austin community, we are requesting that students self-quarantine for 14 days prior to arrival in Austin.
To effectively self-quarantine, please stay in your home and limit in-person interactions as much as possible throughout the two-week period — you can learn more about how to self-quarantine here. If quarantining at home is not possible, then please quarantine for up to 14 days before your first on-campus activity once you arrive in Austin. If you are already in Austin, you should quarantine in your Austin residence for 14 days prior to the start of classes or your first on-campus activity. We know that everyone’s situation is different; please make self-quarantine plans in a manner that makes sense for you.
We are relying on all students to take very seriously the responsibility of preventing the spread of COVID-19, and self-quarantining is a critical first step.
Protect Texas Together App
We continue to make progress on the development of the Protect Texas Together app for students, faculty and staff that will help individuals track their symptoms each day and — based on those symptoms — indicate whether they are cleared to come to campus. The app is being designed with privacy in mind. Members of the UT research community have been voluntarily using the beta version of the app to help us learn and troubleshoot so that we can make it as effective as possible. The plan is to officially launch the app in mid-August
Here’s some information about how the Protect Texas Together app will work:
Users can track their symptoms each day, and the app can provide a daily campus pass for those without any major COVID-19 symptoms.
If the app’s algorithm determines that an individual may have COVID-19 based on the symptoms that person selected, the app will decline to provide a pass and instead direct the user to either University Health Services or UT Health Austin for guidance or testing. Faculty and staff members can also go to the provider of their choice.
The app will also allow users to note their location when they enter or exit any campus room or office. For those using the app, this can replace filling out a room’s paper sign-in sheet and help keep an accurate log of campus activity so the university can quickly identify spaces that might need to be decontaminated or closed if someone later tests positive for COVID-19.
There will be app-specific QR codes posted outside many campus buildings. If your room has a QR code, you can quickly scan that instead of manually entering your room number into the app.
Additionally, ITS is developing a call-based app to accommodate users who do not have smartphones or computer access.
Face Mask Enforcement
As a reminder, it is required that UT community members and visitors wear recommended protective face masks at all times when inside university owned and controlled buildings except:
When alone in a private office.
For students, when alone — or with a roommate — in an assigned residence hall room.
When eating and drinking while practicing social distancing — including in a campus dining facility.
When an alternative has been approved as part of the Americans with Disabilities Act or religious observance accommodation processes.
We encourage community members to wear recommended protective face masks outdoors.
UT will encourage compliance by increasing awareness and fostering a spirit of cooperation. For those who continue putting the community at risk with their behavior, corrective, disciplinary and enforcement action may be taken in accordance with the university’s guidelines for faculty, staff and students.
Students who refuse to follow directives to wear a mask — and force class to be canceled with this refusal — will be referred to Student Conduct and Academic Integrity in the Office of the Dean of Students for disciplinary action. Repeat violations will lead to sanctions including suspension from campus.
Crowd Size at Longhorn Football Games
As we’ve planned for the fall semester, one of the common questions we’ve heard from our community is: How do we expect our athletic events, and football in particular, to take place? We have been exploring a range of scenarios surrounding crowd attendance for upcoming football games at DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium, with a maximum occupancy of up to 50% of crowd capacity.
Kevin Eltife, Chairman of the UT System Board of Regents, has requested that the university continue to review its policies and specifically explore the logistics, health and safety effects of crowds at 25% of capacity (including students).
The analysis of this new crowd size target is a reflection of the consistent change and uncertainty that has come with the COVID-19 pandemic. As rates in Austin and throughout Texas continue to ebb and flow, we must be agile and work consistently to develop strategies to protect the safety of our student athletes, coaches, staff members, students and all who visit our campus for athletic events. As we approach the start of the football season, we will closely monitor the spread of COVID-19 and make final decisions based on the guidance of our Board of Regents and state health officials in the coming weeks.
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Thank you for your continued understanding and flexibility during these challenging times. I know that these days and weeks are adding up and that the stress and exhaustion that has come with this public health crisis can be overwhelming. If you need help or someone to talk to, the Counseling and Mental Health Center continues to provide counseling and other services online and by phone for students, and the Employee Assistance Program has resources for faculty and staff members.
If you are a UT employee, I hope you are showing support for your team members and sharing words of encouragement and gratitude whenever you can. I encourage all employees to nominate colleagues who have gone above and beyond in their work during the past six months for a “UT Shout Out” that recognizes the efforts of our extraordinary employees. Feel free to nominate a co-worker here.
Thank you all, and stay safe and healthy out there.