COVID-19-positive cases at UT who cannot self-isolate can go to Austin Public Health isolation facilities

Lauren Goodman

UT students, faculty and staff who test positive for COVID-19 and cannot safely self-isolate will coordinate with the University and Austin Public Health to stay at the city’s isolation facilities, according to the Protect Texas Together plan.

On July 29, the City Council approved the city to continue occupying the isolation facility to provide emergency housing for coronavirus patients for 60 days along with an option for three additional months. The University is partnering with Austin Public Health to provide isolation housing for the UT community at a primary hotel and two additional hotels, according to the Protect Texas Together Plan.

Bryce Bencivengo, spokesperson for the city’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said the city leased two isolation facilities for all Austin residents who need to be in self-isolation and five protective lodges used for people experiencing homelessness.  Bencivengo said only one isolation facility is currently being used.

Bencivengo said the isolation facility has medical personnel on staff to monitor patients’ symptoms by telephone for the entirety of their isolation period.

"If you're positive, we keep you until 14 days or … if (your symptoms are) still on beyond 14 days,” Bencivengo said. “We'll keep you until you meet our criteria for discharge.”

Bencivengo said patients will receive supplies to check their symptoms daily, have WiFi access and meals delivered to their room. Patients will also be allowed breaks outside in personal protective equipment within the hotel grounds.

Aaron Voyles, director for residence hall operations for University Housing and Dining, said professional staff will talk through options with students who test positive to go off-campus for  their self-isolation period.

“We have community partnerships with isolation facilities in Travis County that have housing and food for students if they don't have another option that they can self-isolate,” Voyles said. “The first step is working with (students) on an individual basis to figure out … what they need to be able to make that move off campus.”

Voyles said that if a student refuses to self-isolate away from campus, it is a potential institutional rules violation and could result in the cancellation of their housing contract.

“We hope that we would never need to get to that and that we can work with the student to find a solution that's going to be good for them,” Voyles said.

Voyles said staying at an isolation facility is free for UT students, staff and faculty. The isolation facilities have parking for students to take their car, or Austin Public Health can arrange other transportation options, Voyles said.

City Council member Kathie Tovo said she worries about the large number of UT students living in her district, and she hopes students will social distance as they attend classes.

“It's certainly something I'm super concerned about,” Tovo said. “Making sure that (students) are following the regulations … is going to be critical to making sure that we can keep the numbers down on our UT students.”

Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify information about the isolation housing provided by Austin Public Health.