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UT Austin making COVID-19 strategy changes

The university will conduct more COVID-19 tests, while also moving more students, staff and professors on campus.

AUSTIN, Texas — The University of Texas at Austin is expanding the scale of COVID-19 testing while returning more students, faculty and staff to campus, with university officials saying the risk of virus spread on campus is low.

As of Sept. 14, UT Austin estimates there are 92 active COVID-19 cases on campus among students, faculty and staff.

Starting next week, more students will attend classes in person and on campus. According to the university, 5% of classes this fall are fully online, including courses that are regularly taught online and those courses set for online teaching before the semester began. The university gave prior approval to a few instructors to move classes fully online. 

From the start of student orientation on Aug. 16 to the end of the second week of classes on Sept. 3, the university reported approximately 261 student COVID-19 cases and 54 faculty cases. At the start of the semester, the university decided to move some classes online and reduce the number of students in class because of COVID-19 concerns.  

"While many classes are already meeting in person, some classes began the semester at reduced density or were temporarily moved online," UT Austin leaders said in a press release and an email to students. "We are asking students and faculty members to remain flexible, as there may be instances where modality changes take longer, particularly if contact tracing is ongoing."

In a separate letter to university staff, UT shared they plan to begin bringing professors back from temporary online teaching on Sept. 20. All of these instructors will be back on campus no later than Oct. 4. The transition plans do not affect instructors with ADA or those who got approval for permanent online courses for the fall semester.

Instructors can still move classes online temporarily, if necessary. The university said professors in quarantine would move online as well.

"These needs arise every semester, pandemic or not, and a faculty member’s colleagues, department chairs and deans can help find ways to adjust for specific class periods, as needed," university leaders said in a letter to colleagues.

More staff will also return to campus on the same timeline as professors.

With more students coming on campus for classes next week, the university is expanding COVID-19 testing. More rapid antigen tests will be on campus, "significantly" expanding testing capabilities. UT did not give a timeline on when more testing would be available on campus.

"We are in the process of expanding our testing capabilities for asymptomatic individuals to include additional free walk-in pop-up clinics across and near campus for students, faculty and staff," UT said in a press release. "Details about the test sites are being developed and will be shared with the community when available."  

UT will also start providing at-home COVID-19 test kits for faculty and staff

Students are not required to test weekly for COVID-19 on campus; however, the university recommends all students, regardless of vaccination status, test regularly. UT currently encourages testing once a week for vaccinated people and twice a week for those who are unvaccinated. 

The university said they are "taking steps" to increase student participation in weekly testing, but did not say what is being done.

The university is also updating its contact tracing notification system, making it faster.

"Instructors and students will be quickly informed of possible exposure to COVID-19 for students who tested positive on campus or self-reported their positive test results directly to UHS [University Health Services]," university leaders said in a letter.

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