Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.
UT announced more details of its reopening plan Monday, including online, hybrid and in-person classes, mostly double-occupancy rooms in residence halls and a new app for COVID-19 symptom screening.
The details first came in a letter from UT Interim President Jay Hartzell, who said safety is the top priority as the state of the coronavirus pandemic in Texas changes daily.
“For students and families, we want you to have the ability to make informed choices about how you experience the fall semester, while keeping in mind that COVID-19 and its spread in Texas will continue to shape the exact ways we teach, learn, work and conduct research on and off campus,” Hartzell said in the letter.
According to the Protect Texas Together website, the University will constantly assess the level of safe operations for in-person classes and other events on campus. Factors that could trigger a campus closure include significant government action, significant increases in positive COVID-19 cases or an inadequate supply of tests.
The semester will begin Aug. 26 as planned and end the day before Thanksgiving, as UT announced in May. Final exams will be held online from Dec. 7 to Dec. 16.
As announced earlier this month, masks will be mandatory when inside campus buildings and recommended when walking around campus. Masks may be removed when alone in an office or dorm or when eating and drinking.
At a press conference Monday, Soncia Reagins-Lilly, vice president for student affairs and dean of students, said there are protocols in place to receive referrals from students, faculty, staff and other community members about those who are not following safety guidelines.
Gatherings and other planned events, such as those for student organizations, “are not generally permitted on campus.” The University said it has no authority to enforce social distancing or mask-wearing for off-campus events.
“Part of what we’re doing is trying to instill in our students a sense of doing the right thing even when they’re not in the classroom or in our dorms or residence halls,” Hartzell said at the press conference. “Part of this is an exercise in trust, that we’re trusting that our students will be able to do the right things as we go forward.”
UT will offer online, hybrid and in-person class options at the same tuition rate. Hartzell said the University did not lower tuition for online classes because they will still be delivered in a high-quality format.
“The tuition students pay is just a small fraction of covering the cost of what we do,” Hartzell said. “We have been delivering very high-quality online courses now for quite some time and charging the same tuition rates for those courses as our face-to-face classes.”
Hybrid classes will have in-person and online elements, though it may be possible for students to take hybrid classes completely online. Students will have the option to choose a fully online semester, “but should make sure to assess how this decision will affect their paths toward graduation,” Hartzell said.
The fall course schedule is updated daily, with changes to instructional mode, time and location for classes. Current students will be able to make changes to their schedule through July 22.
As UT announced earlier this month, in-person classes will be spread out from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and assigned to specific classrooms where no more than 40% of the seats in the room will be filled. Faculty members can decide whether they want to hold office hours online or in-person under social distancing guidelines.
“We’re working right now with all the departments and colleges and schools to try to figure out how we can best serve our students while also accommodating our faculty members’ health needs, concerns or constraints,” Hartzell said at the press conference.
Housing and dining
Residence halls will open Aug. 20 and most rooms will be double occupancy, with limited availability for single occupancy. Students will be required to sign a COVID-19 amendment as part of their housing contract.
Single occupancy rooms will continue to cost more than double occupancy rooms, Reagins-Lilly said at the press conference. In communal residence hall bathrooms, students will arrange scheduled times for using showers and plexiglass will be placed between sinks or wherever it is needed, Reagins-Lilly said.
Students living in residence halls will not be permitted to have guests visit during the day or overnight until further notice. There will be no changes to the operation of graduate student apartments besides mask wearing and social distancing.
The University has an off-campus resource office working with private dormitories and other large student-living communities, such as sorority and fraternity houses, to develop their own safety guidelines, Reagins-Lilly said.
Health and wellness
The University’s testing labs are expected to have the capacity to process up to 1,500 tests daily in the fall.
“We have been planning for capacity to make sure we take care of our students who are symptomatic that might actually have COVID but as well as to do some proactive community testing on campus to have a better understanding of what the prevalence of disease is amongst asymptomatic students,” said Amy Young, vice dean of professional practice at Dell Medical School, at the press conference.
A new app that will help users monitor their temperature and symptoms will be released in August. Students, faculty and staff will be expected to perform daily symptom screening with the app. Some campus buildings will require in-person temperature screenings, and all visitors will be expected to complete a symptom screening.
If a student who tests positive cannot self-isolate, they will be placed in the city’s isolation facilities per arrangements with Austin Public Health, Young said.
Further football plans will come in early August, as Texas Athletics is working on how to safely host games and other events.