Correction: An earlier version of this editorial mischaracterized certain aspects of UT’s proactive community testing program. We incorrectly stated that it had irregular hours, didn’t allow walk-ups and had low student participation. After the error was brought to our attention by the most recent former director of the program, we removed the incorrect information. The Texan regrets this error.
As COVID-19 numbers continue to climb in Texas — reporting an average of 300 deaths per day — public and private Texas universities welcomed at least a portion of students back to campus in person this spring.
UT administration decided to hold all hybrid courses online through the end of January, delaying their in-person elements. UT informed all on-campus residents they would be required to take a COVID-19 test within four days of returning.
However, while the University encouraged students to get tested before and after returning to campus, there are no testing requirements for nonresident students, faculty or staff.
“(We’re) trying to encourage students to come back over a period of time, to test before and after arrival, to reduce the size of that initial peak,” said Art Markman, head of the academic working group for COVID-19 planning.
We acknowledge that UT has made some steps in the right direction, but it’s not enough.
We studied other universities’ COVID-19 protocols and talked to students to learn about their schools’ responses to the pandemic. From our research, we know other schools have handled the pandemic on their campuses, at least in certain respects, better than UT has.
The University of Oklahoma required all students living in the dorms to provide a negative COVID-19 test before returning to Norman. OU has also made a noticeable effort to remain transparent with students by appointing a COVID-19 officer, Dale Bratzler.
“Dr. Bratzler has been very accessible to us,” said Jordan Miller, OU journalism and political science senior and editor-in-chief of The Oklahoma Daily. “We’ve been able to talk to him about different things the university is doing and things happening across the state.”
At Texas A&M University, students are given a variety of testing service options. In addition to their main walk-up testing locations on campus, the university also offers drive-thru testing and testing kiosks.
“Testing (is) one thing that I'll give A&M an A+ on,” said Brady Stone, journalism junior and editor-in-chief of The Battalion. “Any student on campus who wants to get tested can get tested within a day.”
At Stanford University, students on campus must fill out a daily Stanford Health Check. The online survey dictates campus access depending on the student’s reported symptoms and university protocol compliance. Students without a green rating are not allowed into buildings on campus –– except residency areas –– until the Health Check is completed.
In comparison, UT implemented the Protect Texas Together app at the beginning of the fall semester, a program designed to monitor student symptoms daily and enable contact tracing.
Besides the two on-campus proactive testing sites that require a completed symptom survey to enter, though, the University has failed to implement any sort of system to hold students accountable for using the app.
Baylor University required a negative test from all faculty, staff and students before the first day of class, and students, staff and faculty are required to get tested every week. Each student is assigned a weekly testing day, time and location to streamline the testing process.
UT touts itself as a Public Ivy and is consistently ranked as one of, if not the best, university in Texas. It’s time for UT to live up to that reputation, starting with its response to the biggest health crisis we’ve seen in a century.