Welcome back to campus, and welcome to the start of a new semester. I hope each of you had time to rest and reset, and I especially hope that all of you stayed healthy and safe over the holidays.
I’m sure your inboxes are already overflowing with email (as if it ever stops), but I want to share a few important reminders with you as you settle into the spring session.
Returning to Austin
For those of you returning to Austin from holiday travels, it is strongly recommended that you:
- Limit contact with others for seven days prior to returning to Austin and get tested three-to-five days before your return trip.
- Limit contact with others for another seven days once you are back and get tested the week of your arrival. Continue to isolate until you receive a negative test result. Testing is available on campus and through the City of Austin, as well as through many private healthcare providers.
COVID-19 Policies and Guidelines While on Campus
After a substantial upswing in COVID cases in Texas and around the country, local hospital admissions have begun to hold steady but are still much higher than we saw this summer. On January 14th, the Austin Convention Center — now a field hospital — began accepting its first ICU patients. As people return to Austin and to campus in the coming days and weeks, it is critical that each of us strictly complies with UT’s COVID-19 policies and guidelines. Cases among students and employees have been rising since November, so it’s imperative that we continue to do the following so that we can stay at Research Level 3:
- When possible, work from home. If you must come to campus, wear a mask anytime you’re inside a UT building, at all times. Only remove your mask when alone in a single-occupancy office. For snacks and meals, eat alone if you can or sit outside and leave plenty of space between you and the next person.
- Maintain at least 6' of distance from others whenever feasible.
- If you feel ill or think you may have been exposed to COVID-19, stay home and schedule a COVID-19 test. Once you have your test results, notify UT’s Occupational Health Program (OHP) if you’re an employee or University Health Services if you’re a graduate student.
- Additional guidelines and recommendations can be found in the Research Restart Toolkit.
COVID-19 Vaccines at UT
As you read in President Hartzell’s message earlier this week, the Texas Department of State Health Services has designated UT a COVID-19 vaccination hub for greater Austin. UT will continue receiving vaccine allocations from the state and is committed to administering vaccines as quickly, efficiently, and equitably as possible. As you’ve no doubt heard, vaccine supply is still very limited throughout the country, but UT has been and will continue to vaccinate members of the UT community and greater Austin population simultaneously.
At this time, UT is vaccinating individuals who meet the criteria for Phase 1A and 1B. As the state provides updated guidance about vaccine distribution, and as supplies increase, UT intends to offer vaccines to the rest of the Longhorn community. This will likely be a months-long process, however, and so it’s incumbent upon each of us to continue following guidelines and best practices for minimizing exposure. For more information, visit the Protect Texas Together COVID-19 Vaccine Information page.
Undergraduate researchers who have consented to regular proactive community testing through the Protect Texas Together app may continue to conduct research on site at this time, with their PI’s approval. PIs still have the choice to pause on-site undergraduate research, however. Consult the Undergraduate Research Restart page or your associate dean for research if you have questions.
UT Shuttles Resume Next Month
In November, Parking and Transportation Services suspended UT shuttle bus service after classes went online following Thanksgiving break, but shuttle bus services will resume in February. I realize this could be very inconvenient, however, for those of you who are already back on campus in some capacity. Please view these Cap Metro routes to see if one will meet your needs in the interim.
I suspect that many of you feel, like I do, that these first few weeks of 2021 have felt like a continuation of 2020. After all, many school-age children are still learning remotely, COVID-19 cases have reached new highs, new strains of the virus are circulating around the globe, and we’re all still grappling with meeting everyone’s needs simultaneously (and our own, hopefully). It isn’t easy at all, but there is hope. Scientists continue to be encouraged by the vaccines’ effectiveness, and I continue to be encouraged by our university’s diligent planning and agility when it comes to making sure all of us who want a vaccine will be able to receive one. (Well, two.) And I’m especially proud that yesterday marked a new proactive community testing record at UT: 1,580 in one day. That’s the kind of dedication we need to get us through.