Texas State COVID-19 coronavirus

Classroom 101 in Taylor Murphy Hall sits empty, Tuesday, March 31, 2020, at Texas State. Taylor Murphy Hall is home to university’s Department of History. On a regular day, students come in and out of the classroom for lectures.

A Texas State administrator encouraged faculty members teaching face-to-face classes during the spring semester to go remote for the first two weeks, according to an email obtained by The University Star.

The email was sent on Jan. 6 from Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Gene Bourgeois to faculty and staff as an update prior to the start of classes on Jan. 19. By encouraging instructors to make the switch to remote teaching "as much as possible," the university hopes "to gradually increase campus density," the email states.

Provost email screenshot

A screenshot from an email sent by Texas State Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Gene Bourgeois to faculty and staff encouraging faculty members teaching face-to-face classes in the spring semester to "use remote teaching."

"Faculty are responsible for communicating any changes to students in their face-to-face classes as soon as possible," Bourgeois said in the email, just 13 days prior to students returning. 

In a conversation with The Star, Student Health Center Director Emilio Carranco says the recommendation, among other changes and implementations, was made to "make our campus even safer." 

"We felt like it was important to acknowledge that there was more COVID-19 transmission occurring around us and that we should talk about adding additional mitigation strategies...the core strategies that we employed in the fall worked," Carranco said. "[Today we asked faculty members teaching] face-to-face classes to consider doing remote teaching those first couple of weeks if they can do that; there are some courses that you can't do that with — they have to be face to face, hands on."

The email sent by Bourgeois also includes information about free COVID-19 testing, the expectation for students to get tested prior to returning to campus and a requirement for people living on campus to show proof of a recent test (within a week) upon returning. 

The message to faculty members arrived amid worries about a post-holiday COVID-19 surge, a reality health officials have issued warnings about for weeks. In Hays County's Jan. 6 virus report, 129 new lab-confirmed cases, six new hospitalizations and one additional fatality were recorded, while Texas State added 24 new cases to its own dashboard.

On the same day, the City of San Marcos opted to keep its public facilities closed through the end of January, a move to combat the rising COVID-19 statistics. 

Over 20 COVID-19-related deaths were reported during the first 30 days of December, more than any month prior. Current daily case counts in the county rival daily case counts during the summer, which saw cases well over 100 on a routine basis. 

Texas State has praised its own efforts in the past of minimizing the spread of COVID-19 on campus, often citing the absence of any evidence that would show transmission in classrooms, residence halls or dining halls. However, the university is only aware of cases the community reports to Bobcat Trace, cases identified through the Student Health Center and confirmed cases through its Curative testing site.

"I am hopeful that we will begin to see this surge start to abate — that [we] will begin to see a downward trajectory in terms of new cases," Carranco said. 

The University Star will continue to update this development as more information becomes available.

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