June 17, 2020
Dear UT Community,
I know that many of you have been following the recent uptick in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Austin and across Texas, and you are concerned about what it will mean for you, your families, our community and UT. At a minimum, it is my hope that these trends will serve as a reminder that we all must continue to exercise care and follow medical guidance and best practices as we go about our daily activities. We still have a couple of months before the launch of our fall semester, which gives us needed time to improve collective behaviors and reverse these current trends.
As a university, we are continuing to use all of the talent on our campus, as well as the guidance of epidemiologists and other medical experts, to chart our collective path forward. This continues to be a very dynamic situation, and I appreciate your patience as we evaluate our options and finalize a strategy that is both safe and academically sound.
On that note, I wanted to write you today with a few quick updates on our plans for the upcoming fall semester. Below you’ll find some brief reports detailing the key decisions and progress the university has made in recent days.
As a reminder, we will be finalizing all of our major fall plans at the end of this month. We are currently building a complete website that will contain all of the primary information that students, families, faculty and staff need to know. We will share the URL with you once the site is live.
Levels of Opening
As the university prepares for the fall, we are working to develop a framework for how we decide upon, and adjust, the scope of our operations as needed given the fluctuating impact of COVID-19. We are working to define various “levels of opening,” which will inform many aspects of our approach and protocols. For instance, the highest level of opening at UT would be a complete reopening of campus without restriction. The lowest level of opening would resemble the university’s state this past April, when all learning was remote and most on-campus research was paused.
This fall, our levels of opening will probably exist somewhere in between those two extremes, and they will be put into effect based on a wide range of community and campus considerations, including COVID-19 test results, trends in Austin hospitalizations, medical data from the state and much more. We will be following the guidance of medical professionals and scientists as we make decisions on the scope and intended purpose of each level of opening.
We expect to have a campus-wide approach for defining these levels, covering instruction and key campus activities, but certain functions or units — particularly Research and Athletics — may have discretion to construct their own policies for “levels of opening” based on their distinct needs and structures.
Contact Tracing and Quarantine Arrangements
Last week, the university began formalizing an agreement that allows Austin Public Health to contract with Dell Medical School to conduct contact tracing for UT community members who test positive for COVID-19 when we reopen. Contact tracing helps slow the spread of COVID-19 by identifying individuals who have been in close contact with those who test positive, getting them testing, and when necessary, into quarantine. Information voluntarily shared with contact tracers will be kept completely private and used for public health purposes only.
Additionally, UT community members will be able to access isolation spaces through Austin Public Health if they can’t self-isolate or quarantine safely in their residence.
Travel Guidelines in Response to COVID-19
The current prohibition on university-sanctioned travel for business or study has been extended through July 31. Exceptions will be processed by deans or vice presidents for domestic travel and by Texas Global for international travel. Decisions about the policy after August 1 will be announced on or before July 15.
Requests for domestic travel will be approved by the college’s/school's/unit’s Dean or Vice President; it is expected that precautions for travel will have been considered, with concrete steps planned to mitigate health risks.
University funds may not be used to cover cancellation fees for meeting registrations or for travel booked outside of UT contracted travel agencies or Concur.
At this time, the U.S. Department of State continues to have a global health travel advisory, level 4 “Do not travel,” and the CDC has a global COVID-19 pandemic notice level 3 “Avoid non-essential travel.” As of July 1, 2020, faculty/staff/students (whether paid by UT or external sources) seeking to travel internationally will be able to do so based on the following:
Faculty/staff/students must petition for international travel through the university’s Restricted Regions process and submit a supplemental COVID-19 travel waiver. Approved travelers will need to follow all quarantine requirements in the destination country and upon return to the U.S., Austin, and the UT campus.
Visitors/researchers/scholars wishing to travel to campus from abroad will need to seek approval from the corresponding college’s/school's/unit’s Dean or Vice President. All visitors will be subject to the same quarantine provisions as UT Austin approved travelers returning from abroad.
All international visiting delegations coordinated by Texas Global are suspended through December 31, 2020.
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As always, please visit our Fall 2020 Planning website for the most up-to-date information and details about all of the new policies the university has implemented. I also recommend watching yesterday’s video conversation about UT’s academic planning with interim Provost Dan Jaffe and Professor Art Markman for further insight.
Thank you for the dedication you’ve shown during these past four months. I hope you are able to find some time soon to visit with family and friends (even at a distance) and unwind during these hot summer months.