Under one roof

Office of Emergency Management, Office of Student Health Services creating plan for if students test positive for COVID-19

Aleena Hassan
Mercury Staff
Aleena Hassan

UTD is developing a plan to address future COVID-19 cases as students return to on-campus housing.

On June 16, UTD confirmed that a student living in a University Village apartment contracted COVID-19. Three days later, the student’s two roommates tested positive. They all self-isolated in UV afterwards, said associate vice president of student housing Matthew Grief.

“Someone calls them every day to check up on them, we have food delivered to them, we make sure they have what they need,” Grief said. “We’ve increased cleaning and sanitary practices in housing. We require everyone to wear masks and have increased hand sanitizer stations.”

The current student housing occupancy is at 20% but is expected to drastically increase in the fall.

“We have around 900 students living on campus right now, but we’re still looking at full occupancy in the fall. That’s 5,500 students coming in,” Grief said.  “We’ve had more cancellations than usual around this time because of the announcement of the hybrid and other class options, but we’re still looking at a full campus.”

The Office of Student Housing is not the only office involved in the university’s response to students testing positive for COVID-19. The Student Health Center has been developing plans to address the situation starting in May, said its director Lea Aubrey.

“We are practicing telemedicine right now — students can call us, email us or go through our virtual health portal. In the fall, if they need to come in person, we’ll have students show up and go directly to their appointment and not sit in the waiting room, so they can safely social distance from other students who may be sick,” Aubrey said. “We’ll send care packages to students who get sick with basic necessities they might not have access to.”

COVID-19 testing will be available to all enrolled students, regardless of whether or not they live on campus. Although they have not yet performed any tests, Aubrey said the university has a working relationship with Quest Diagnostics, the company that will complete the lab tests.

“When we spoke to them shortly after we closed in March, they said it would take 48-72 hours to get a result. They’re a big vendor in the local area with a lot of clients, so I anticipate it will take longer than that to get results back to our student,” Aubrey said. “It’s like everything with the pandemic — it’ll come later than expected. When we used to re-order our supplies, it would come in a week. But right now, we’re still getting the last of some our supplies that we ordered four to six weeks ago.”

When an affected student completes their two-week isolation period, they have two options to see if they can move about campus regularly, both of which are based off of CDC guidance.

“One option is that they can get two negative test results in a row. In these cases, we will assist in helping students seek out appropriate local resources like Urgent Care or testing sites that can help them better than us. But the testing sites have long lines which students may not be able to stay in,” Aubrey said. “So, the second option is that the student is symptom-free for 72 hours without any medication. If they do not meet these two options, they should continue to self-isolate.”  

On a broader level, director of the Office of Emergency Management Mariah Phipps said the office is helping coordinate a more general, university-wide response.

“All departments are affected by this. We are following guidance by federal, state and local authorities as well as the CDC and public health officials. We are also working closely with other universities and the UT system to see what our peers are doing. It’s a very collaborative process and we’re all trying to figure out the appropriate response,” Phipps said. “The closest thing to this we had was Ebola, and even then no one on our campus contracted it.”

Phipps also said that students will be asked to fill out a COVID-19 self-report form if they test positive for COVID-19, come into close contact with a person who has tested positive for COVID-19 or exhibit COVID-19 symptoms.

Employees are also going through similar precautions. In the June 24 presidential town hall, UTD’s Chief Human Resources Officer Colleen Dutton stated employees will have to monitor themselves for symptoms and complete a daily screening questionnaire.

“We also have a designated COVID-19 health screening and training coordinator: Karlynda Poage will serve as the primary contact for employees and students to self-report or to discuss a confirmed case or ask questions or seek guidance,” Dutton said. “Anyone with a suspected or presumed positive case will be asked to self-isolate. Students that are in on-campus housing and are confirmed to have COVID-19 will be quarantined in single-occupancy apartments that have been reserved for this purpose.”

In an effort to make the campus safer, housing has kept some dorms in UV vacant in case students need to self-isolate. Additionally, student housing has made two-bedroom dorms that normally house four students to house two, with the intent that no students will share bedrooms.

“At the end of the day, we care about student safety and want to make sure that the transition back to campus is as safe as possible,” Aubrey said.  

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