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Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Town hall details reopening plans and best practices for campuses

Town hall details reopening plans and best practices for campuses

JUNE 2, 2020 — Members of the UTSA Research Excellence and Doctoral Education Recovery tactical team convened for a virtual town hall Monday to discuss the university’s June 1 reopening of in-person research and lab activity as well as broader reopening conversations for the fall, and the precautions being taken to keep the Roadrunner community safe on campus during the public health crisis.

The panel for the virtual town hall, titled Research Recovery, was moderator JoAnn Browning, dean of the College of Engineering; Mickey Stevenson, associate vice president for research integrity; Jason Yaeger, endowed professor and chair of the Department of Anthropology; Paul Goodman, interim associate vice president for facilities; and Lorenzo Sanchez, director of risk and emergency management.

Browning opened the discussion by touching on the formation of the tactical team, which has been focused on restarting in-person research and lab activity while supporting the health and wellness of the university research community.

The team is following directives from federal, state and local oversight authorities—including the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board—to safeguard public health while phasing in on-campus research activities to advance research excellence and graduate education.

“The task force and The Graduate School really encourage all programs to work closely with students and consider the impact that the pandemic has on individual students.”

“COVID-19 continues to persevere, but we’ve learned methods of protecting ourselves and our communities. We have better access to protective supplies now, compared to what we had in March,” Browning explained. “Our directives from federal, state and local authorities now suggest that we can continue to expand our activities as long as they are done in a safe manner.”

Stevenson went on to lay out guidelines for researchers making the choice to return to campus this week. All visits to campus are voluntary, she said. No one is required to return to campus, and no one should feel stigmatized for choosing not to return.

She stressed that undergraduate students can’t be involved in any research whatsoever unless it’s in their own home environments and that on- or off-campus research can’t be performed unless social distancing measures can be maintained with certainty. She also strongly recommended that all research team meetings continue to be held virtually.

“If it can be done remotely, it should be,” she said.

Yaeger echoed those same sentiments before pointing viewers to additional research protocols and resources for any graduate students who may have concerns. Although graduate instruction will continue virtually through the summer, he said that conversations are already happening about in-person instruction in the fall.

He noted that the synchronous interactions between professors and graduate students have been a critical factor in those conversations. Primarily, however, he preached flexibility in all facets of graduate education for the summer and the foreseeable future.

“The task force and The Graduate School really encourage all programs to work closely with students and consider the impact that the pandemic has on individual students and the student body more generally,” he said. “Provide flexibility regarding timelines for milestone achievement and for degree completion.”

Goodman then detailed the numerous ways in which the Office of Facilities is sanitizing the newly reopened university buildings. Using a cleaning agent and sanitizer that can kill the novel coronavirus, day teams sanitize door handles, restrooms and common touch points like elevator buttons, while night crews perform deeper cleaning, including floors, sinks and all other nonequipment touch points. His team has also ramped up the fresh air being pumped into buildings for the time being.

Goodman also emphasized two other important items: First, that everyone should wear face coverings in common spaces such as restrooms, corridors and dry labs. Second, he urged anyone returning to campus to limit where they travel in buildings. Nonessential spaces like conference rooms, for instance, have already been sanitized and do not need to be deep-cleaned again. 

> Watch the recorded stream of the Research Recovery town hall.
> Learn more about the Public Health Task Force for reopening UTSA’s campuses. 

Sanchez said that this current period of research recovery will give the public health task force time to reflect on a broader reopening in the fall. Those decisions will come in the next few weeks, and they will be guided by a public health advisory group and local partners, such as the City of San Antonio and Metro Health.

In the meantime, tactical teams will determine how different functions of the university may be reinstituted over the summer, including athletics, campus operations, libraries and the Institute of Texan Cultures. He said the ability to pivot and adjust operations quickly will be crucial going forward.

“The local public health conditions really do dictate the direction in which we go,” Sanchez said. “I’ve heard a lot of questions from departments across the university about what this university is doing in North Texas or what this university is doing out in California or even in Austin or other parts of the state. But we have to understand that coronavirus is impacting communities at different levels. What’s happening in DFW may be very different than what’s happening in San Antonio.”

Sanchez added that the Department of Public Safety is ensuring that each department has the proper inventory of personal protective equipment and that they can provide PPE training and recommendations for anyone that needs it. Lastly, he advised everyone in the university community to regularly read the updates (via email or UTSA Today), and to frequently check UTSA’s Coronavirus Updates website for information.

Shea Conner

UTSA Today is produced by University Strategic Communications,
the official news source
of The University of Texas at San Antonio.

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