Just over a month into the fall semester, the University of Texas at Austin announced that it plans to structure the spring semester "in much the same way," according to a community-wide email sent by President Jay Hartzell.
Hartzell commended students for the adjustments they've made, which he said have helped to keep the university's COVID-19 numbers "as low as possible" and have been "largely effective" at containing the disease.
Since the current semester began on Aug. 26, the university has reported 754 cases among students and 11 among faculty and staff. Hartzell said this falls "within the range of what we had expected given UT's size" in his email.
UT Austin has a total enrollment of more than 50,000 students. Researchers at the university's COVID-19 Modeling Consortium have assumed that around around 22,000 of them either live in Austin or have returned to the city for the fall semester.
The administration announced plans in August to test 5,000 asymptomatic community members a week. But it has fallen short of that goal, testing fewer than 2,000 a week since classes began.
The university's faculty council said in a recent update that it had not been able to meet the 5,000-mark because of federal and state health information laws that prevent mandatory testing.
"The answer, in part, is that we have fewer than 5,000 people a week who have been willing to take the tests," the council wrote.
Hartzell said the university is working out "some kinks" in its proactive community testing program to try to expand its scope, including not requiring a second confirmatory test for students' whose rapid tests returned positive results, allowing for walk-up testing that does not require an appointment and debuting a new incentive program, details for which are forthcoming.
UT Austin has faced criticism from students, staff, the campus newspaper and others for its reopening plans.
Before the fall semester began, members of the Texas State Employees Union presented a petition to the UT System calling for the cancelation of in-person classes, tuition cuts and hazard pay for essential workers.
Two days before classes resumed, a photo of sorority pledges gathering—unmasked and in dense groups—in West Campus prompted blowback on social media. Reports of off-campus parties led Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott to warn Greek life organizations that such behavior could lead to criminal charges.
Earlier this month, Austinites raised concerns about the risk of transmission at football games.
At the Texas Longhorns' first home game of the season, the university required student attendees—but not others—to be tested for COVID prior to entering the stadium. Of the 1,198 students tested, 95 received positive results. This positivity rate, of nearly 8%, exceeded the local positivity rate reported by Austin Public Health and other testing sites, which was less than 5% at the time.
But Hartzell pointed to other metrics in his assessment of the university's response.
"[T]here has been a relatively small number of infections among faculty and staff members," he wrote, "and the return of our student population has not resulted in wider spread through Austin and Travis County or increased hospitalizations."
Since the fall semester began, the moving average number of new confirmed cases reported each day in Travis County has fallen from more than 150 to 107 and the moving average number of COVID-related hospital admissions has dropped from 19.6 to 13.
However, local health officials have raised concerns about the potential spread from teenagers and young adults to the broader community.
"I want to remind our young people … to please engage in protective behaviors not only in the classroom but outside the classroom," Escott said Tuesday.
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- This is what would lead to a shutdown at UT-Austin this fall - austonia ›
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Austin FC couldn't find the stamina to fight off a 2-0 loss against LAFC for their inaugural match on Saturday.
The match, which saw No. 21 Austin FC go head-to-head with No. 2 LAFC in Los Angeles, was broadcast nationally on FOX and FOX Deportes.
Eleven players took the stage as Austin FC players for the first time, with five starters making their MLS debut. "Ringleader" Alex Ring took the captain's armband and wore it well. The defensive midfielder could be seen leading his teammates through their first ever match, but it wasn't enough to stage an Austin takeover in LA.
As Austin FC took the stage for their first-ever match, they appeared more experienced than their track record. The club held LAFC to a scoreless first half, keeping about equal possession of the ball.
In the signature style of Head Coach Josh Wolff, the team played with quickness and intensity, nearly connecting on several fast breaks.
The club was given some generous breaks from No. 2 LAFC, who had one or both of their star DPs out for the half. While forward Diego Rossi is out for the entire match due to a hamstring injury, Carlos Vela was accidentally pulled too soon on what turned out to be a miscommunication.
"He gave us the sign that he needed to come off," LAFC Head Coach Bob Bradley said on broadcast. "I can't say more than maybe it's my fault."
LA pulled some dramatics and slowly gained more possession throughout the half, but ATXFC's defense wasn't initially as shaky as it seemed in preseason. Jhohan Romana has pulled his weight in getting the ball out of goal, and a 34-year old Matt Besler held his own in center back.
As the second half commenced, however, it became clear that LAFC had the advantage over Austin's first major league team.
Goalkeeper Brad Stuver had his work cut out for him, fending off 24 shot attempts, 11 of which were on goal.
LAFC finally connected in the 61st minute of play as Corey Baird shot one into the bottom right corner. The team capitalized off their momentum and put one past Stuver a second time, drawing roars of approval from the LAFC crowd.
While some last-minute attempts from Jon Gallagher and others were made, Austin FC didn't have the endurance to bring a tie. After seven additional minutes of stoppage time, the club lost their first match 2-0.
It's matchday! Austin FC—Austin's first major league sport team—kicks off its debut season in Los Angeles today after years in the making. We know how much this means to our beloved city and are taking you along with us as we journey to LA!
Austin FC writer Claire Partain and I are excited to bring you game-day coverage straight from the City of Angels. Check back here for updates, and visit our socials: @austonianews for the latest.
5 p.m: Kickoff!
It's finally here! Claire will be updating Austonia's Twitter account live. And we'll post her game recap after the game. Best of luck Verdes!
4:40 p.m: Excitement radiates back home
Watch parties are in plenty supply back home. Austonia's Laura Figi visited Circle Brewing Co. and found a crowd of excited supporters.
4:20 p.m: Austin FC supporters are in the stadium
Although the Banc of California Stadium is hosting the match at limited capacity, we see some green in the stands ahead of kickoff. Just moments away from the Austin FC's debut!
~3:20 p.m: Austin FC's team bus enters the stadium grounds
With a warm welcome from Los Verdes, Austin FC players were welcomed into the Banc of California Stadium.
~1 p.m: Los Verdes in LA
(Rigo Rodriguez/Los Verdes)
Austin FC supporters are making their presence known in LA, including the Los Verdes group.
Los Verdes members started having match-day fun around the area this morning with brunch. We'll be joining them about an hour before the game outside the stadium to share some of their excitement. We'll post immediately to Austonia's Instagram.
11:45 a.m: We landed!
View from hotel room where we're staying; the stadium digital sign can be seen in the right corner. (Sonia Garcia/Austonia)
Switching over to pacific time, we're here and it's almost like no time went by. It's 9:45 a.m. here.
We've been in contact with Los Verdes, an Austin FC supporter group, who is also here in LA counting down to kickoff.
8:20 a.m: LA bound
Like many of you, we've been looking forward to this moment for, let's just say, a very long time. Today, we woke up bright and early, headed to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and hopped on a flight to LA.
A gloomy day in Austin with a very quiet airport, we're headed to sunny skies in California.
As we wait for the game to start at 4:30 p.m., check out Claire's preview of the game with a predicted lineup and timeline of the long journey to get here.