April 22-24 marks the University’s annual Family Weekend. The Forty Acres will be buzzing with people as families explore campus highlights. Austin is still in Stage 2 for COVID-19 risk-based guidelines, meaning positivity rates and COVID-19-related hospital admissions are lower than 10%. However, out-of-town visitors and large social gatherings create the potential for a surge in positive COVID-19 cases on campus, especially with emergence of the BA.2 variant — a descendent of omicron.
The University can decrease this risk by taking the proper preventative measures.
UT must require Family Weekend visitors to either show a COVID-19 vaccination card or a current negative COVID-19 test upon arrival to the event. This would help limit the spread of COVID-19 among students and visiting families and protect immunocompromised individuals on campus.
Organized by the Texas Parents department, Family Weekend consists of many social activities including tours of the various colleges, open houses and bowling in the Texas Union. Given the community-building nature of these events, the potential for COVID-19 spread on campus will be much higher.
Eliska Padilla, issues and communications manager, spoke on behalf of the University, saying in an email that the University is following Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order from April 2021 and therefore will not require proof of COVID-19 vaccination.
“The University continues to encourage vaccines, testing and following CDC masking guidance in a collective strategy to contain the spread and manage the COVID-19 virus,” Padilla said in the email.
Abbott’s order states that no person should be denied entry to a public facility for failing to provide COVID-19 vaccine documentation. However, the University could issue an alternative for those who choose not to get vaccinated or don’t want to show a vaccine card: obtain a negative COVID-19 test within three days of Family Weekend.
This is well within the University’s jurisdiction, as University Health Services recently required proof of a negative COVID-19 test when students moved back into dorms for the spring semester.
UT is also lacking on the front of promoting CDC guidelines for the event. The Family Weekend website, where people can find schedule and registration information, contains no messages from the University regarding COVID-19 precautions. The University could also use the COVID-19 Executive Committee email updates as a platform to spread awareness specifically for Family Weekend, but it has not done so yet.
Journalism freshman Leeza Meyer, who has an immunocompromised parent attending Family Weekend, spoke on the need for UT to take action in protecting students and families during the event.
“I think it’s important for the University to (emphasize that) it is important to continue to still be understanding of other people’s situations,” Meyer said. “I do feel like they have a certain responsibility (to protect students and visitors) since it’s happening on their campus.”
UT should respond to safety concerns with explicit action by adding more signs around campus that emphasize CDC guidelines and require either COVID-19 vaccination status or proof of a negative COVID-19 test for Family Weekend. Words of encouragement alone are not enough to stop the spread, especially when the communication about COVID-19 prevention is poor.
Decreased trends in local positive cases does not mean the University should abandon preventative COVID-19 measures. Adding clear safety guidelines to Family Weekend will help students and visitors avoid the virus.
Brager is a journalism freshman from Buda, TX.
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this column incorrectly stated that Eliska Padilla spoke on behalf of the Texas Parents Association instead of the University. The column also incorrectly stated that the Texas Parents Association organized Family Weekend. The Texan regrets these errors.