Despite guidelines, UT-Austin students fear COVID-19 outbreaks on campus

Anna Canizales

After other universities have reopened and closed down weeks later due to coronavirus outbreaks, some UT students said they are not confident in the University’s policies to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Masks will be required in all buildings on campus, student organizations will mostly operate remotely and the Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium will be limited to 25% capacity, according to the Protect Texas Together website. Of over 11,000 courses offered in the fall, University spokesperson J.B. Bird said 76% will be online, 19% will be hybrid and 5% will be in person. 

The University of North Carolina reported 135 COVID-19 cases after one week of in-person classes and shifted all undergraduate courses to remote instruction Aug. 17, according to the University’s newspaper The Daily Tar Heel. After reporting 147 cases in a week once in-person classes began Aug. 10, The University of Notre Dame announced a move to online classes until Sept. 2.

Interim President Jay Hartzell said in a message to the UT community July 29 that self-quarantining for 14 days, wearing masks and social distancing will help lower the spread of COVID-19 on campus. According to the Protect Texas Together website, students are expected to follow the City of Austin’s health and safety guidelines off-campus, but the University will not enforce policy violations off-campus.

Economics junior Rohin Balkundi said he is not returning to Austin in the fall because all his classes are online. He said he has seen UT students choosing not to follow health and safety guidelines.

“I’m concerned that within two weeks, we’re going to have to go back all online, and everybody here is going to be like, ‘What a waste,’” Balkundi said. “I think it’s gonna blow up in everybody’s faces and we’re going to have a similar semester to last year.”

Dean of Students Soncia Reagins-Lilly said July 31 that parties, on or off campus, would not be allowed.

Mercy Ogunlade, a geography and sustainability studies junior, said she feels as though social distancing guidelines will not be effective if they are not strictly enforced by the University, and telling students not to attend parties will not work. 

“It seems like all the problems (students have) had with what (the University has) said haven’t really (been) addressed,” she said. “It needs to be consistent, it needs to be repetitive, it needs to be more. It’s not making (the University) look serious at all.”

Hartzell said in a message to the UT community Aug. 20 that the University is learning from universities like UNC and Notre Dame to better understand how to control the spread of the virus.

“Our decisions about returning to campus in hybrid mode this fall have been driven by the health needs and concerns of our entire community,” Hartzell said in the message. “I believe our students and other community members can respond to these stories by behaving responsibly and protecting each other, enabling us to continue to have safe in-person experiences on campus this fall.”