UT pulling 700 students back from study abroad programs to reduce COVID-19 risks

Education

AUSTIN (KXAN) — About 700 University of Texas at Austin students now have less than three weeks to return home and self-isolate for 14 days.

The university announced Thursday it “made the unprecedented decision to cancel all education abroad programs globally through August 18, 2020.”

The school spokesperson told KXAN about 175 students were already in the process of being recalled. The new restrictions bring the number of students being recalled to 700.

UT is also extending its spring break from one to two weeks.

“This decision was designed to give our community additional time to prepare as we implement new strategies for the health of our students, faculty and staff on campus,” said University President Greg Fenves.

The school is also suspending campus visits, admissions events and prospective student tours and is working to coordinate online courses for when students return from the extended break.

“We were already working on a contract with Zoom, so that was part of our planned tools we wanted to make available to campus. All we did was expedite that contract, so we’d have it fully ready to use now,” said Provost Maurie McInnis.

But not all courses will shift online.

“We can’t have a blanket statement that says every course has to go online because we have too many things that cannot be delivered in that modality [such as labs and clinicals],” McInnis said.

Fenves said they’re “re-configuring classrooms, so there might be a lab class with 15 students, so maybe it needs to meet over three time periods with five students a piece.”

When asked about disinfecting shared spaces, Fenves told KXAN, “The campus operations is looking at what is the right guidelines for cleaning for all the buildings. We have a lot of buildings. A lot of surfaces. That’s another reason for the two week period to make the adjustments.”

University Health Services Chief Medical Officer Terrance Hines said the school is in touch with “those who have been on university business through Texas Global, and we’ve been communicating with those individuals.”

For anyone traveling for personal reasons, he said the school’s requesting that they register through an online portal and then communicate back if they’re doing self-monitoring or if they develop symptoms. They’ll be advised them from there.

Whether commencement ceremonies will be held is still “to be determined,” according to UT.

Fenves said they went ahead and cancelled summer abroad programs because the situation is so fluid, they didn’t want students to pay now and deal with last minute cancellations later.

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