Vaccinations and Looking Ahead
Wednesday, December 9, 2020
With the FDA likely to approve the first COVID-19 vaccine soon, I wanted to share with you what to expect at UTEP in the coming weeks.
UTEP is applying to become a COVID-19 vaccine provider for faculty, staff and students under the Texas vaccination program. We have the facilities and trained healthcare professionals needed to conduct a safe vaccination program for ourselves.
While vaccines will be in very short supply in the early weeks after FDA approval, we expect supply will increase rapidly in January and February. We think that using our internal resources and doing the planning for vaccination now will make it easier and faster for faculty, staff and students to get vaccinated when supplies become available.
We have established a small task force to focus on our vaccination effort, and we will get more information to everyone in the coming weeks.
An important first step will be to identify groups within our UTEP community who are considered high risk and will therefore receive priority for vaccination once it begins. To start this process, you will receive a brief survey today that will help us understand the needs of our faculty, staff and students. Your responses will remain anonymous.
COVID-19 Testing Extended to Spring Semester
By working with the City of El Paso to secure additional federal funding, we will be able to extend the UTEP proactive COVID-19 testing program into the spring semester. We have learned a lot this fall about testing to suppress disease. We were able to accomplish this in the fall because we got people their test results quickly and did contact tracing rapidly. In the past few weeks, results have been available in less than 7 hours.
In the spring, we will continue to improve and individualize our communication with students and employees who have to be on campus so that they know where, how and why to get tested even if they don’t feel sick. As vaccination becomes more widespread, the need for testing will decline and we will manage that as we go.
We will also work with the city and the state to try to keep the drive-through site available at the SC3 parking lot for Miners and their families.
Summer and Fall 2021
We expect campus operations in Fall 2021 will not be constrained by COVID-19, and that may begin as early as Summer 2021. That will give us the opportunity to use what we have learned during this pandemic and come back better than we were before. Not everyone has the ability to take classes in person during the day. The Provost, Deans and Chairs will work with faculty to ensure that we use technology and new skills learned in the pandemic to increase access to excellent education.
Although we are hopeful for a new normal in the summer, we expect to start the spring semester with the same mask, social distancing, and remote work requirements we have had on campus for the fall semester. The vaccine will not come fast enough to change those practices by January.
Although there is a lot that we can’t predict with the vaccination program, such as manufacturing and distribution issues or reluctance to get vaccinated, there is reason for hope. There are at least two more vaccines that could be approved by January or February. We are going to have to monitor this day by day, week by week.
Nevertheless, we believe there will likely come a point in the spring semester when we can start more meaningful campus activities. We cannot “toggle” classes from asynchronous distance learning to a classroom with a specific time. Even so, we will be able to expand our engagement with students, do more co-curricular activities, engage more students in research, and enjoy the pleasure of each other’s company again.
Over the coming weeks, UTEP will start to plan for increasing activities on campus the week after Spring Break – March 22 – with further expansion of activities after Easter weekend, starting April 5.
Each leader should work with their teams to begin developing plans for your area. We will have to stay agile as things could change rapidly. We have learned a lot about that, too, in 2020.
As more people become vaccinated, we can and should do more together in ways that improve our teaching, our research, and our engagement with our students and campus community.
We are determined to come back even stronger. That opportunity will be with us very soon.