Wednesday, March 3, 2021
I want to let you know where we are with respect to the public health situation and what we anticipate in the coming weeks and months.
As you know from the Governor’s announcement yesterday, we have greater authority to make local decisions based on the circumstances in which we find ourselves.
We now have three approved vaccines and a fourth, from AstraZeneca, may be approved in late March or early April. Texas will likely reach 1 million COVID-19 vaccinations administered per week starting next week and will continue at that rate or above. The numbers of hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients is coming down. We need to do our part to continue to keep it down.
Vaccine supply is expected to meet demand in April/May, and in May/June, there will likely be significant amounts of vaccine widely available to those who want to be vaccinated.
We know circumstances may change and we will continue to monitor the situation and adjust accordingly, including monitoring the impact of variants of the disease. But people also need time to plan and adjust their lives.
At UTEP, we’ll use the following guidance, while continuing to monitor the situation and giving managers flexibility to accomplish our mission.
- UTEP will continue to operate the vaccination program and make vaccination available to faculty, staff and students as soon as possible based on the state’s eligibility guidelines.
- As the supply of vaccine increases in the coming weeks, we will make it possible for faculty, staff and students to get members of their households vaccinated at UTEP.
- We will interpret “household” liberally and encourage Miners to help people with whom they have close contact to get vaccinated at UTEP – particularly elderly or vulnerable family members who may need help.
- We will continue with best health practices on campus, including mask wearing and social distancing, commensurate with the current health conditions. You should anticipate that masks and social distancing will be required on campus at least through the end of the semester.
- We will begin to increase activities on campus after spring break – March 22 – particularly co-curricular activities.
- Campus offices should plan to be open during normal business hours, though not necessarily 100% of personnel on-site, on June 1. Leaders should work with their teams to adjust to open offices and accomplish the mission while taking into account individual circumstances and the work environment.
- Because of the vaccination levels of nursing students and faculty, summer sections for nursing will be held on campus without social distancing required.
- The Provost will work with other health professions faculty to adjust social distancing guidelines for cohorts of vaccinated groups to improve the quality of instruction for the summer terms.
- While every research program is different, principal investigators who have not already done so should plan to increase the intensity of their research this summer, including hiring students and engaging them in research.
- We will plan for a situation in which, after July 1, social distancing will be relaxed on campus if health conditions continue to improve.
- The Provost will work with deans and faculty to offer a healthy mix of in-person and distance options this summer and, in particular, will seek to schedule more in-person class options in Summer Session 2.
- We will plan for the Fall semester to be in-person using distance-enabled technologies to increase access to excellent education, not because the presence of disease requires it.
We won’t be the same when we return; we want to be better. We certainly have more tools and technologies to overcome distance. But we also know that we are very social creatures. Our students and our teams need to be together more as soon as it is safe to be together again. The summer gives us time to adjust back to a more normal fall. At this point, we expect health conditions will allow these changes.
You or members of your team may also want to work remotely more frequently after July 1 if you are more productive away from the office than at the office on some projects. We need to start working through what that looks like in each situation. What matters is that we accomplish the mission – getting the whole job done the best we can. Flexibility of place can sometimes make that better.
That said, we are not just a collection of buildings and isolated offices. We are a University where our connections to each other, both planned and unplanned, give richness to our work and our lives. We will move forward in that spirit and plan to be together again.