Centralize COVID-19 information with campuswide informational module

Eva Strelitz-Block

From vaccines to policies and protocols, UT’s Protect Texas Together website is full of important and up-to-date information and guidance about COVID-19. 

However, most students are only vaguely aware of the website’s existence, much less how to utilize it to their benefit. 

“I very rarely visit the Protect Texas Together website,” said Finlay Scanlon, international relations and global studies senior. “I get COVID-19 information from texting my friends questions.”

Moreover, navigating this website –– with its myriad of pages, links and contact numbers –– to identify what COVID-19 resources UT has available for students and how to use them is not exactly intuitive. 

UT should build a mandatory campuswide COVID-19 module that orients students with the Protect Texas Together website and app. This module would include some basic site navigation instruction and highlight crucial indicators to track: vaccine access, operational updates, mask distribution and changing masking and social distancing policies.  

If UT intends Protect Texas Together to be the ultimate “go-to” source for instruction and messaging regarding health and wellness, campus operations and current academics, it is critical for UT administration to invest in a strategic approach to ensure students visit it regularly for updates. 

With respect to my fellow students, mere “suggestions” to reference certain sites don’t necessarily prompt swift, reliable action. 

“There needs to be no barriers for entry,” Scanlon said. “Everything needs to be in one place so there is not the UHS website and then the app and then the text messages. There needs to be one place with three buttons on the front page and then students will be able to do it.”

Current conditions underscore how especially important this investment would be. 

Texas’s Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel has now opened up access to the COVID-19 vaccine to all Texans age 16 and older. However, many students remain confused about how to secure a vaccine appointment and what getting vaccinated means for them moving forward regarding masking, social distancing and their ongoing vulnerability to COVID-19.

According to Susan Hochman, associate director for assessment, communications and health information technology, UT is working to clear up students’ vaccine confusion through a variety of channels including social media messaging, live webinars with UT’s own “COVID-19 experts” and classroom and student organization presentations.

“We are looking at some other outlets that we haven’t utilized before, for example our vaccine education, putting some of that information on Canvas and places that students spend a lot of time,” Hochman said.

However, it would be helpful if students knew that they could find the most timely information on the Protect Texas Together website. 

Perhaps you are asking: why should UT create a module now given that the end of the school year is in sight? Shouldn’t we all know what we are doing at this point? 

Though the end is in sight, conditions on the ground relative to COVID-19 continue to evolve quickly both in terms of vaccinations and CDC guidance. Students need to stay current with these changing conditions.

Developing a module to orient students with where to access COVID-19 information will be crucial to priming the student body for a return to near-normal operations in the fall. 

Strelitz-Block is a Plan II and anthropology sophomore from Austin, Texas.