AUSTIN, Texas — While many colleges across the country have suspended in-person classes due to coronavirus concerns, the University of Texas is working on a plan of its own.
UT is working on a contingency plan that could possibly go into place after spring break. That plan would consist of classes entirely online, however, the college is not yet entirely equipped to do so.
President Gregory Fenves told the Austin American-Statesman that the university has been preparing for about a week for when students come back on March 23.
Fenves also said that just because the school could be moving all classes online, that doesn't mean the university itself would be closed. Small gatherings and essential services will still be allowed to take place.
At a press conference on Tuesday, school leaders answered questions regarding the possibility of switching over to online classes, ongoing health updates and international travel.
Larry Singell, senior vice provost for resource management, said part of the contingency plan is to identify which students and staff members do not have the proper equipment or training to switch over to an online class format. The university will also be working with library personnel to identify where the need is. Additionally, they'll also be working with instructors on how to develop online classes for courses that may be more hands-on, such as ceramics or nursing.
As for now, Singell said the university cannot say whether they will need to switch to an all-online format after spring break. However, UT will be working with the City, State and other UT systems to make that decision. He said the university expects to know more by the end of the week.
Dr. Terrance Hines, director of University Health Services, said the college has been focusing on prevention communications via email, social media and more. He said the university has been reminding students and staff about common preventative methods as well as providing more hand sanitizer, masks and other proper materials to staff members.
Dr. Hines said there is a screening process in place for those who are exhibiting respiratory symptoms. Those who are not sick enough to be seen have been advised on how to self isolate. He also said that those who are well are advised not to use masks.
He said the university will be monitoring updates from the Centers for Disease Control, Austin Public Health and the World Health Organization, but he could not predict what the threshold would have to be for any major changes at the university level.
As far as international travel, Randy Penson of Texas Global, said undergraduate travel remains suspended for certain large cities and countries like Spain, France and Germany. Graduate and faculty travel requires case-by-base approval.
He said the university is monitoring situations across the world and while many students may be traveling during spring break, travel reporting is not currently required by the university.
However, he said some have been reaching out after traveling abroad and some have been advised to self-isolate. Penson said there is no need to panic after traveling but everyone should travel smart by registering with the embassy where you are traveling and monitoring updates from the CDC.
As of Wednesday afternoon, UT said it has not made a decision to go fully online. However, students are being allowed to submit class absence notification request forms to Student Emergency Services.
As of Wednesday, no cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in the Austin area.
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