How Texas universities are discouraging gatherings amid COVID-19 outbreaks

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AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Several of the largest universities in Texas have reported a major increase in COVID-19 cases since August, when students began returning to classes.

Cases of COVID-19 since August 1, 2020. (All data is from each university’s online COVID-19 dashboard.)

While universities have been preparing for months, it’s proving difficult to keep students from gathering off campus, where school officials have less jurisdiction.

Texas Tech University Dean of Students Matt Gregory said TTU launched a marketing campaign aimed at educating students about the risks, to encourage them to follow social distancing and other safety protocols.

“We’ve partnered with the city leadership under Mayor Pope’s office. We’ve partnered with neighborhood associations, our academic affairs area or residence halls and student housing. And it’s been a community effort really to try to gain compliance,” Gregory explained.

He said as cases started to rise on campus and reports of students gathering started coming in, the administration is taking new punishments into consideration. Students and members of the community can report those breaking the rules to the Student Conduct Office.

“We are still trying to take the educational approach. However, for more egregious and more flagrant violations that expose risk to our university community or even to the Lubbock community, we are pursuing those aggressively, and that could entail a probation period of suspension and the worst case scenario, expulsion from the university,” Gregory said.

At UT Austin, students who violate COVID-19 guidelines could also face possible suspension in addition to other penalties from the Office of the Dean of Students.

Federal guidance earlier this week recommended communities with universities enforce more restrictions at bars and restaurants.

On Wednesday, Dr. Mark Escott, Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority, said he agreed with that guidance.

“I think we have to react. If that’s the circumstance that we experience and stay the course in terms of bars and, you know, determine if we need to make further reductions in restaurant capacity,” Dr. Escott said.

Response to COVID-19 cases varies by university, but many have isolation facilities available for students who test positive.

Last week, Dr. Anthony Fauci recommended sick students stay on campus, and not go home, to contain the spread of the virus.

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