Coronavirus: UT-Austin Mandates Masks For The Fall Semester

Austin, TX Patch

AUSTIN, TX — All students, faculty and staff will have to wear protective face coverings inside campus buildings next fall in an effort to blunt spread of the coronavirus, the school’s interim president said Monday.

Jay Hartzell outlined the guidance in a letter to the UT-Austin community, a copy of which was provided to Patch by a university spokesperson. Hartzell said people can remove masks while alone inside a private office or in residence hall rooms, according to the letter.

“We will start the fall semester with all students, faculty, staff and visitors required to wear masks or cloth face coverings when they are in buildings on campus,” Hartzell wrote. “This policy — which is currently in place for the summer — is consistent with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which makes clear that face coverings, in addition to social distancing measures, are among the most effective strategies in limiting the spread of COVID-19, particularly in high-density areas. It is also consistent with the Texas Department of State Health Services’ guidelines for Opening the State of Texas.”

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The interim president noted the use of masks in outdoor areas on campus will be encouraged, especially in areas where social distancing is not possible but not required. “We are still working to develop a mechanism for ensuring the use of face coverings in buildings and will share that plan when it is finalized,” Hartzell added.

The university’s decisions regarding learning, living, working, health and wellness, research and athletics can be viewed at the Fall 2020 planning website.

As far as testing and screening for coronavirus, Hartzell said the university is developing a plan to test asymptomatic individuals on a voluntary basis. Such asymptomatic testing can help further reduce the spread of COVID-19 on campus while creating a more complete picture of the presence and impact of the disease, Hartzell noted.

“We will build on-campus capabilities to conduct asymptomatic testing consistent with epidemiological recommendations,” he added. “We are also continuing to review options and policies for screening members of the UT community who enter buildings on campus for symptoms and will provide more information as we finalize our approach.”

The university has been significantly impacted by the scourge of illness, most notably after more than 50 students ignoring health advice took a spring break trip to coastal Mexico before returning home infected. The outgoing university president, Gregory L. Fenves, previously disclosed his wife had come down with the illness, and university officials later confirmed that 10 custodial workers also had contracted the virus.

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