UTEP leadership continues to monitor the public health situation in El Paso daily and maintains close communication with City and County public health officials.
In the early days of the pandemic, knowing we would have to continue our mission in the presence of disease, UTEP set up its instruction for this fall with about 75% of its courses to be taught by distance so that in-person courses could be conducted safely on campus. In addition, faculty conducting hybrid courses – those that meet sometimes in person and sometimes by distance – intentionally planned their in-person elements close to the start of the semester and with flexibility in mind.
We also have used our research capabilities to test widely. In fact, yesterday, as an example, 18% of the COVID-19 tests done in El Paso were performed by UTEP on our own students, faculty and staff, which make up only about 3% of the population of the city. We are committed to making a significant contribution to the community in which we live and finding people who are sick and don’t know it so that they can stay home and get better.
Our testing, rapid results and on-campus contact tracing tell us that UTEP itself is not a source of community spread of the disease. Indeed, 53% of the students who tested positive last week do not even have any on-campus courses.
Given that, with the disease at very high levels in the community around us, UTEP is taking the following steps to further assist the community:
- Many faculty who are conducting hybrid courses are reducing their campus presence over the next few weeks and teaching by distance.
- Lower density on campus will permit some classes that need to continue to meet in person to move to even larger venues.
- A few sections will move outside.
- The “Grad Fair” has been postponed and a decision on December graduation has been delayed in hopes that disease levels in the community decline.
- Non-instructional meetings on campus will be kept to fewer than 10 people.
- We will continue to respond promptly to requests for assistance from the City, County and State of Texas for expertise we may have.
The early voting site at the UTEP Union Building will continue to operate without interruption, and it is set up to operate safely.
Unlike sporting events we have seen in other cities, UTEP has had two home football games where UTEP fans followed best health practices so that people could enjoy the game safely. Those practices include:
- If you are sick, stay home.
- No tailgates.
- Masks are required.
- Tickets are digital and limited in number.
- All bags must be transparent.
- Sit with your household members in assigned seats, which are set up to be socially distant from others.
- Maintain social distance on the concourse and while entering and exiting the stadium.
We carefully monitored compliance and results of previous events and there was no evidence of community spread attributed to these outdoor, masked, socially distant, low-density attendance games. City guidance does not prohibit fans from coming to the Sun Bowl this weekend, in large part because the UTEP Athletic Department and UTEP fans have shown that we can do this safely.
To further support the efforts of the city, UTEP will be taking additional measures this weekend.
- We will be informing UTEP faculty, staff and students who plan to go to the game and have not been tested this week that they should be tested beforehand on campus at one of the free, convenient UTEP testing stations. Miners take care of Miners.
- Temperatures will be checked with digital thermometers at the entrances to the stadium.
- We will continue to politely remind and correct people who do not wear masks or maintain social distance so that everyone who comes to the game can be safe and enjoy the game. At the first two games, this was not a problem.
Fewer than 400 of our 25,000 UTEP students live on campus this semester. We are embedded in the community we serve. We knew that we would have to operate in the presence of disease this fall and we have put in place strategies to make the campus safe and help the community combat this disease. While those strategies appear to have worked so far, we will continue to monitor events daily over the coming weeks to ensure that our strategies continue to work with very high rates of disease in the community around us and adjust accordingly.
I’m proud of the work and leadership from our students, faculty and staff who have modeled what “right” looks like. We continue to expect our faculty, staff and students to model best practices all the time so that we can accomplish our mission and help our community suppress the virus and recover.