Dec. 7: COVID-19 Vaccine Update

Dear UT Community,

With the fall semester winding down and winter break on the horizon, we want to take a moment to acknowledge how proud we are of your efforts and resiliency in keeping our campus safe, in spite of the difficult year you’ve all faced. Thank you for choosing to follow public health guidance and for doing your part to help Protect Texas Together.

However, just as our students still have finals to take, as a community, we are not yet finished with the work this semester to keep our campus safe. We are writing today to share some important updates related to COVID-19 infection rates, preventive measures, and our plans for the campus once a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available.

COVID-19 Infection Rates

In recent weeks, the UT campus — like Austin and many areas across our state — has seen increased cases of COVID-19. As a country, we are experiencing record high numbers of new cases, as well as hospital and ICU admissions. With the holiday season upon us, public health officials are extremely concerned about this trend and the impact it is having on both our health care resources and the health of our community. We are asking for your assistance in minimizing spread and bending our campus and community curves.

Gatherings

This is a festive time of year, and many of us are making holiday plans with classmates, co-workers, families and friends. We encourage you to plan for virtual instead of in-person celebrations.

Please continue to take precautions that will help keep you and your loved ones safe and healthy. Follow the university’s Meetings, Events and Mass Gatherings guidance, and remember to apply the same safety standards everywhere you go. Some especially important reminders during this celebratory season include:

  • Keep at least 6 feet of distance between yourself and others whenever possible.
  • Wear a recommended protective face mask when you will be around other people.
  • Wash your hands often, and do not share food or beverages with others.
  • Stay home if you are sick, and avoid close contact with sick people.
  • Monitor yourself for symptoms of COVID-19. Staff and faculty members who experience symptoms should contact the Occupational Health Program or during the university holiday, UT Health Austin. Students who become ill should contact the University Health Services Nurse Advice Line at 512-475-6877, which operates 24/7, 365 days a year.

Additionally, review these tips that we shared prior to Thanksgiving for safer ways to celebrate the holidays.

Masking

Our contact tracing team’s data collection efforts highlight the importance of this simple, but highly effective, prevention strategy. Throughout the fall semester, masks were not worn by either party in greater than 80% of positive COVID-19 transmission cases in our community. Please continue to wear a mask even in the company of familiar people, such as family members and friends who live in a different household. We cannot afford to become complacent with masking — a significant number of cases can be prevented by taking this action.

Testing and Limiting Exposure

So far this year, we have conducted more than 45,000 tests for approximately 19,000 UT community members through our free UT Proactive Community Testing program. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention credits testing of asymptomatic individuals for keeping rates lower than expected on college campuses. At UT, Proactive Community Testing has allowed us to identify almost 500 asymptomatic individuals who were positive and who could have otherwise unknowingly spread the virus to others on campus. Our ability to test, isolate, and contact trace cases remains paramount for slowing the spread of the virus on campus. Proactive Community Testing will continue to operate through Dec. 21 and will resume the week of Jan. 4.

The increasing case numbers throughout the city, state and nation have us concerned about travel and gatherings during the winter break that could result in ongoing and increased spread when we return in January. Consistent with the most recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we recommend limiting your interactions seven days prior to return and getting tested through Proactive Community Testing during your first few days back.   While we know you are remembering to social distance and mask, please be extra vigilant, to the extent possible, in limiting exposure during the seven days after your return.

COVID-19 Vaccine

Multiple vaccines are being developed and manufactured in the United States, and the first vaccine could be cleared for use by the Food & Drug Administration later this week, based on scientific evidence about its safety and efficacy gathered through large clinical trials. The university has been designated a distribution site by the State of Texas and will soon receive and begin administering the two-shot series to our community, starting with designated health care workers. Equitable allocation of the COVID-19 vaccine is a key consideration for the university as we develop and implement a systematic distribution plan. A group of experts has convened for planning and preparation. Our decisions for vaccine allocation will align with guidance from state and federal authorities that prioritizes health care personnel and other groups based on their respective risk.

We strongly encourage all UT students, faculty members and staff members to get vaccinated once there is sufficient supply to meet the demand, although we do not yet know when that will be. Even when vaccines are available and have been received, we will all still need to continue with physical distancing and wearing masks to help stop the spread of COVID-19 as we learn more about the protection that COVID-19 vaccines provide.  As we anticipate the vaccines’ gradual arrival and distribution and additional state guidance, we are committed to communicating updates to our campus community.

Thank you for all you are doing to keep yourself, our campus and our community healthy. Our collective efforts and ongoing commitment to slow the spread of COVID-19 are key to maintaining a safe environment as we head into the spring semester.

Again, thank you for everything you have done and continue to do to protect one another.

We wish you all a happy, relaxing and safe Holiday Season!

Terrance Hines, M.D., FAAFP
Executive Director & Chief Medical Officer,
University Health Services

Amy Young, M.D.
Vice Dean of Professional Practice, Dell Medical School Chief Clinical Officer, UT Health Austin