September 28, 2020
Dear UT Community,
I am reaching out today both to provide you with some updates on how the semester is unfolding so far and how we’re planning to approach the spring 2021 semester, and also to ask for your help. Specifically, we have an updated and streamlined process for Proactive Community Testing, and we are asking that all in our community participate regularly in this excellent program — one that is critical for our understanding and for making adjustments as time goes on.
Before we turn to the testing program, please know that I am grateful for all the adjustments you’ve made and all that you’ve done to help us get this far. Even while the presence of COVID-19 has shaped and influenced so many aspects of our lives in recent months, we have been working to limit the spread of the disease, keep our numbers as low as possible and provide an environment for learning, research and instruction that is both safe and enriching. So far, the results suggest that our health and safety efforts have been largely effective — the number of confirmed positive cases is within the range of what we had expected given UT’s size; there has been a relatively small number of infections among faculty and staff members; and the return of our student population has not resulted in wider spread throughout Austin and Travis County or increased hospitalizations. But there is much more work to be done.
We are continuing to partner directly with student organizations and property managers when we learn of community behavior that violates state and local orders. We are also coordinating closely with local officials as they enforce these rules. And we must all continue to be vigilant when it comes to wearing our masks, social distancing, getting flu shots, completing UT’s mandatory COVID-19 training program, monitoring our symptoms and getting tested regularly. The threat that COVID-19 presents is still very strong, so it’s important to keep up the hard work even though it isn’t always comfortable or convenient.
Proactive Community Testing
As we have ramped up voluntary proactive community testing, more cases have been identified, which is what we expected and, more importantly, what can help us minimize spread and impact overall. It is critical that community members participate in our proactive community testing, but I also acknowledge that there have been some kinks to work out during these early days, and we are working hard to make changes. We want you to get tested regularly — as frequently as once every two weeks.
Moving forward, if you get tested through UT’s proactive community testing program and produce a positive result, you will not have to take a second test for confirmation. Previously, there were situations in which UT community members who tested positive for COVID-19 were required to get a second confirmatory test — that practice is over.
The Protect Texas Together app is making it easier for you to get registered for proactive community testing. The app now allows you to consent and complete your symptom questionnaire on your phone or device. This will help you save time once you’re at a testing location so that you can get tested and back to your day quickly.
We will soon be rolling out a new incentive program for UT community members who volunteer to get tested. Details will be announced in the coming days.
As a reminder, the university is working closely with Austin Public Health and health care providers throughout Austin and Travis County to fight COVID-19 in our community. We strongly encourage you to get your testing done on campus so that we can provide care and begin contact tracing immediately should you test positive. If you get a positive result at an off-campus testing center, it is imperative that you report it to UT right away so there will be no delays in contact tracing. Students can self-report here. Faculty and staff members can self-report here. The results of an off-campus test will eventually be shared with UT by our partner organizations so that we can coordinate and conduct contact tracing, but it is much safer and more efficient if we handle the testing and tracing on the Forty Acres from start to finish.
As we near the midway point of the fall semester, we are also starting to look ahead and plan for next year and beyond. Based on our experiences thus far, our plan is to structure the spring 2021 semester in much the same way as we have the current semester. There will be robust online course offerings, hybrid learning options and some purely in-person classes. Staff members who can work at a high level from home will continue to work from home. And we will ask students to quarantine in January prior to their return to campus.
The spring calendar will remain the same, with spring break and other key events occurring at the same time they have in previous years. We have not yet determined what commencement will look like and how much of the celebration will be in person or online.
This is our general plan moving forward, but as we all know, much can happen in a few short months, so we will continue to evaluate and make changes as necessary based on the latest public health guidance.
I’ll continue to stay in touch as the semester and year progress. For now, my advice to everyone in Longhorn Nation is to stay focused and take this current semester day by day. You have important work to do, and COVID-19 hasn’t changed that fact in the slightest. Keep up the hard work! You’ve accomplished a lot already, but there’s still a ways to go. So, pace yourselves, stay safe and continue having a great semester.