AUSTIN, Texas — The University of Texas at Austin is extending its spring break, the school confirmed Wednesday night.
According to the university's coronavirus updates page, classes will now resume on Monday, March 30. UT said students should plan to return to campus prior to that date.
In a thread of tweets Wednesday night, UT said the university will remain open and the additional week of spring break will provide UT faculty and staff members time to prepare to increase "social distancing" on campus. "Social distancing" provides guidelines for individuals to avoid group settings and mass gatherings, follow good personal hygiene and maintain a safe distance from others. UT said it will help the university accomplish aims, including:
- Shifting many lectures online
- Reconfiguring classroom space and developing alternative instructional modes for classes that must continue to meet in person
- Updating practices in residence halls, dining halls, recreational facilities and libraries to reduce unnecessary contact and promote better personal hygiene
UT said students who wish to return to campus on March 23 as previously scheduled will still be able to do so and residence halls, dining halls, health and counseling services and other facilities will be open.
"We know this is not the spring break we had expected. Typically, March is a special month, when tens of thousands flock to Austin for South by Southwest and students and community members spend time resting and enjoying new experiences around the nation and the world," UT tweeted Wednesday. "We are aware that many of you have had to change your plans, and we appreciate the resiliency you have shown throughout these difficult weeks. We must all come together as a community to make the semester as productive as possible."
Also on Wednesday night, Texas Athletics announced that all UT home sporting events will be contested without fans in attendance through March 22.
Earlier on Wednesday, in a letter sent to students, UT had said that students could request academic accommodations in response to coronavirus concerns.
In the letter sent by Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Soncia Reagins-Lilly, students were informed that they may submit a request for academic accommodations to Student Emergency Services. Students do not need any documentation or doctor's notes for requests related to the virus. The letter states that UT has notified professors to provide academic accommodations to students requesting them.
The "class absence notification request form" asks students to, "Please use the COVID-19 Check-In for academic accommodations and university support related to respiratory symptoms, returning from any area with known, confirmed cases of COVD-19 or health conditions with increased risk of infection." The form then asks for the student's contact information, which dates they will be absent from class, whether they want all of their professors notified and a brief description of the reason for their absence(s).
The form states that it may take one or two days after submission for students to receive a response, but that a Student Emergency Services staff member will follow up regarding their request.
In Wednesday's letter, Reagins-Lilly stressed the importance of prevention measures, like washing hands for at least 20 seconds and coughing and sneezing into elbows.
The letter also stated that the Division of Student Affairs offices are coordinating with professors to ensure students are supported if they need to stay home. UT said it is also developing steps to help students continue to participate in class and to limit possible disruptions to academic work, as well as considering academic accommodations for students who think they are exhibiting the symptoms of COVID-19.
In the letter, students were also encouraged to "consider how travel plans could be affected by the spread of the virus" ahead of spring break next week, urged not to travel to countries that have been designated as CDC Level 2 and 3 and told to monitor the UT Restricted Regions list if they will be traveling internationally.
"The university is in frequent communication with and following recommendations of public health officials," the letter stated. "Your health and safety are our highest priorities and will continue to be at the forefront of our decisions moving forward."
Earlier this week, UT leaders said the school was working on a contingency plan that could possibly go into place after spring break that would consist of classes entirely online – however, UT is not yet entirely equipped to do so. President Gregory Fenves told the Austin American-Statesman that even if classes moved online, that wouldn't mean the university itself would be closed and that small gatherings and essential services would still be allowed.
As of Wednesday afternoon, UT had not made a decision to go fully online.
On Tuesday, UT leaders said some students who were not sick enough to seek treatment have been advised to self-isolate as a precaution.
Undergraduate travel remains suspended for certain large cities and countries like Spain, France and Germany. Graduate and faculty travel requires case-by-base approval.
As of Wednesday, no cases of the virus have been confirmed in the Austin area.
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