University official says Texas State discussing plans to teach remotely in case of coronavirus outbreak

Hays

Thousands of students want to move classes online after spring break, citing outbreak concern

SAN MARCOS, Texas (KXAN) — Texas State University students are getting ready to go on spring break next week — but there’s already a lot of concern about what could happen once they get back.

Thousands of students have signed an online petition.

They want the university to move to online classes for at least two weeks after vacation as a precaution against the coronavirus.

“I mean, we have 38,187 students here. Those students have to go somewhere for spring break and the university cannot control where those students travel to or who they come into contact with,” says Corey F. Benbow, Texas State student body president.

The school’s spring break begins next week March 16-20.

Supporters say that the measure would be the most effective way to ensure COVID-19 does not spread.

“I fear that after spring break is when we’re really going to see an uptick in cases that people become infected while they’re on spring break and then they bring that virus back here,” Benbow says.

A university official tells KXAN News that all their institutions have been instructed to develop contingency plans to teach remotely, just in case those measures have to be taken.

However, the source says it’s too early to tell when those measures would be taken, if at all.

A student worker says they’ve been instructed to disinfect door knobs twice a day instead of once, amid coronavirus concerns. (KXAN/Tahera Rahman)

Rodney E. Rohde, chair of the clinical laboratory science program for Texas State, says he’s beginning those discussions with his staff.

“In my department, I’ve started talking to my faculty about potential contingency plans around completing coursework this spring if something were to happen if classes were suspended or something like that,” says Rohde.

He and Benbow say Texas State have been doing a good job of staying on top of the virus, so far, and trust they will continue to do so.

“Self isolation, social distancing; all of those are effective prevention and reduction tools to kind of help slow down that virus spread,” Rohde says.

Benbow says the university has the tools and resources to take that precaution — at least for some classes.

“It’s not only protecting students but it’s protecting their loved ones and friends and people in the community that may be at higher risk,” he says.

10 university-affiliated people self-isolating

The online petition comes as Texas State confirms that they are monitoring 10 in self-isolation.

They all returned from countries that the CDC lists with a Level 2 or 3 travel warning.

It’s part of a stringent protocol the school enacted when dealing with affiliated people traveling to countries flagged by the CDC.

They say there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 among that group and no reason for alarm.

The Hays County Local Health Department says its helping the university keep tabs on those people.

In an emailed message to KXAN, Texas State University Chief Medical Officer Dr. Emilio Carranco, M.D. said:

“In response to the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) internationally, Texas State University implemented a policy requiring persons traveling to a country with a CDC Level 2 or 3 Travel Warning to self-isolate at home for 14 days prior to returning to our campuses. Out of an abundance of caution, Texas State University is monitoring 10 people who are self-isolating at home and are not on campus. The cases are connected to international travel. There are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 among the individuals self-isolating and no reason for alarm. The university is committed to protecting the health of our Texas State community and will continue to closely monitor the evolving coronavirus situation. University business and classes will continue as usual.”

Hays County epidemiologist Eric Schneider says he can’t disclose the locations of the self-isolated people.

“None of the isolated individuals are symptomatic, so this is just a precaution to protect the students, faculty, staff, and the community,” Schneider wrote in an email to KXAN Tuesday morning.

Self-isolation in Hays County

Last week, Hays County Local Health Department said it was monitoring “a few” people who were in self-isolation.

All patients were medical workers who helped treat cruise ship evacuees at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.

Schneider says they were all wearing protective gear, but are being isolated and monitored just in case they begin to show symptoms.

As of Tuesday morning, he says, “most of those patients have completed the 14 day self-monitoring window and have been cleared by the Health Department. We do still have some individuals that are self-monitoring for potential symptoms.”

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