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President Smatresk details mask mandate, contact tracing, COVID-19 testing at fall reopening update town hall

President Smatresk details mask mandate, contact tracing, COVID-19 testing at fall reopening update town hall

President Smatresk details mask mandate, contact tracing, COVID-19 testing at fall reopening update town hall
August 06
17:47 2020

President Neal Smatresk hosted a reopening update town hall Tuesday where he informed faculty and staff of fall plans for mask mandates, tracing virus spread, rapid testing and the possibility of reverting to online-only operation.

A face mask mandate requires anyone on campus to wear masks at all times, even outside if six feet of distance cannot be maintained. No enforcement guidelines have been created for this policy. But the university shared tips in addressing non-compliance of the mandate and asks gentle reminders be given if someone is not wearing a mask on campus.

“We ask that if you do see individuals, whether it be in the classroom, across campus, in a building in the Union, we just ask that you kindly approach them and remind them about our guidelines,” said Brandi Renton from the Safety and Incident Management Advisory Group. “If you have an extra face covering on you, offer it to them, or just generally identify where they could go to get one.”

Smatresk said he encourages everyone to be a health ambassador for campus but be kind during the first two weeks where many can still be adjusting to the face mask requirement.

“Let’s give people a chance, not shame them,” Smatresk said. “Let’s give them an opportunity to be safe and to help promote the safety of our family.”

In order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on campus, the university is establishing a tracking and contact tracing program which will include a case tracker for the UNT campus. This tracker will record all on-campus cases or cases that can directly impact the student body and is expected to launch next week on the UNT Health Alerts website.

Rapid testing will be available for students who are symptomatic, and results can be retrieved in 15 minutes. This will allow university health officials to begin the isolation or quarantine process in a timely manner to prevent further community spread.

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Cynthia Herman said if someone is identified as a close contact and they receive a negative test result, then they will still need to adhere to the 14-day quarantine requirement.

The university is also making an informational video to play for classes to inform them of a positive case. Normally, medical staff would speak to the classes in-person to notify cases of communicable diseases, such as tuberculosis or measles.

“The decision was made to go with a video this time,” Herman said. “We might not have enough of me to go around to go to different classrooms to tell everybody about what might be going on in classes. So, I think a video is a great idea.”’

There is no set threshold for reverting campus to essential operations and shifting classes to entirely-remote learning in the fall semester. A current plan outlines reducing on-campus capacity and has instruction-based classes such as labs and performance classes as the last to move remotely if necessary.

Smatresk said he does not want to enact changes that would significantly delay students in completing their degrees but also knows future action may need to be taken to ensure the campus is safe.

“We’re willing to do what it takes in a phased-in series of thoughtful approaches to manage the incidents that occur and to try to restrict the growth or the number of infections active cases that we see on campus,” Smatresk said.

The town meeting concluded with Smatresk thanking faculty and staff for their flexibility and their understanding of risks and uncertainties that come with continuing to serve the university mission.

“Our mission is to transform the lives of our students and connect them to their dreams,” Smatresk said. “Our mission is important. Our students right now need us.”

The full video and transcript of the town hall is available at the Office of the President’s website.

Featured Image: The Scrappy statue sits outside of the Union, wearing a face mask on April 22, 2020. During a town hall, a mask mandate for the fall semester was announced, this would require anyone on campus to wear a mask at all times. Image by John Anderson.

About Author

Anastasia Logan

Anastasia Logan

She is currently a senior at the University of North Texas and studying to complete a bachelor's degree in journalism with a concentration in digital and print. Her writing experience includes traditional news writing, advertising and music journalism.

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1 Comment

  1. Neal
    Neal August 07, 16:13

    Well balanced and fair. Nicely done

    Reply to this comment

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