UT-Austin requires COVID-19 test for returning dorm residents

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Photo Credit: Presley Glotfelty | Daily Texan Staff

On-campus dorm residents at UT will be required to take a COVID-19 test within four days of returning to their residence hall according to an email they received Friday. 

The requirement is due to a rise of COVID-19 cases in Texas, knowledge of how the virus spread on campus last semester and the recommendation of public health experts, according to the email sent by University Housing and Dining and obtained by The Daily Texan. 

“We have determined that residence within our halls is conditional on receiving an on-campus COVID-19 test at the start of the spring 2021 semester,” the email said. “In order to maximize campus safety, the University will provide testing for returning students on campus to ensure testing consistency, as well as expedite contact tracing, and associated isolation and quarantine policies consistent with best practices.”

Amy Young, chief clinical officer for UT Health Austin who helped write the email to residents, said in an email to the Texan the University is also asking students to be tested 3-5 days before returning to campus. She said this will allow students who test positive to isolate at home, rather than find out they are positive after arriving at their residence hall. 

“Despite testing at home, some students will test positive upon testing on arrival because of the time interval between test results and arrival or because they were early in the infectious period and the test was not positive yet,” Young said in the email. 

Young said the primary reason for the decision to test students was because of the rise of COVID-19 cases in Texas. Travis County entered Stage 5 — the highest stage — of its COVID-19 guidelines on Dec. 23 and has 6,044 active cases as of Monday.

Students who receive a positive test on campus will be treated similarly to students who were COVID-positive in the fall and asked to isolate at either the City of Austin’s isolation facility or make other arrangements, Young said. 

Students will be able to return to their dorm after meeting the current national and local isolation recommendations, Young said. Asymptomatic students have to isolate until 10 days after a positive test and symptomatic students will have to wait 10 days after their symptoms appear, go 24 hours without a fever or using fever-reducing medicine and have improved symptoms, she said. 

Students will receive an email to sign up for testing upon returning to their residence hall, according to the email. 

Students can sign up for an exemption to the test if they have had a positive COVID-19 test within the past 90 days, according to the email. Exemption requests must be submitted by Jan. 15 and each will be  reviewed by a committee, according to the email. 

Aaron Voyles, director for residence hall operations, said residents will receive a paper ticket after returning to their dorms, which will be used to verify they completed their test. 

Voyles said students who refuse to be tested will be redirected to Student Emergency Services, who will help the student find housing elsewhere. 

“Living in on-campus residence halls is going to be conditional to receive a COVID-19 test for the spring semester,” Voyles said. 

Voyles said UHD will work with students who test positive to figure out the safest way to retrieve items from their rooms. 

“Our goal really is to help protect the students in the UT community by identifying cases early and limiting early spread and enabling that spring semester to move forward, more toward a normal learning environment for students,” Voyles said.