College in the age of coronavirus

College+in+the+age+of+coronavirus

Michael Cuviello, Editor-in-Chief

Students attending UTEP this fall will have an unprecedented situation in the way they experience the university lifestyle due to the current COVID-19 pandemic. 

Not since the influenza pandemic of 1918, commonly referred to as the Spanish Flu, have cities shut down due to rising cases of a virus spreading. In El Paso, over 600 people perished due to complications from the virus.  

According to the latest death count conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCas of Aug. 4, COVID-19 has claimed more than 157,000 lives in the United States, resulting in universities being forced to shut down and move their curriculums online. 

As an institution, UTEP has revamped its college schedule to reduce in-person classes and increase hybrid and online courses. According to a news release from UTEP President Heather Wilson, before the pandemic, the university would offer 3,800 different sections in the fall semester, with only 12% of those courses being offered in an online format. Now, there will be a little more than 100 in-person, traditional classes, after having provided almost 2,500 online options to students.  

Remote learning that will utilize meeting and completing most of the work online will add a new element of difficulty for students that have typically opted for in-person classes as their primary method of taking academic courses. 

The college experience will also be far from typical for students, with the campus at “Limited Campus Operations, which is the second highest level of COVID-19 precaution on UTEP’s Campus Recovery Matrix. 

Wilson sent out a letter Aug. 5 stating that coronavirus cases had dropped over a three-week period in El Paso and UTEP would be moving up from “Restricted Campus Operations” that has been in place since March. 

Coronavirus remains an urgent public health concern in our region and beyond, and we will continue to monitor conditions daily,” Wilson said. But with these new efforts and others like the revised fall schedule we announced last month, which will substantially reduce on-campus presence, and the proactive coronavirus testing program we announced yesterday, we believe we will be able to continue our teaching and research mission while keeping the safety of our campus community at the forefront.” 

Over this three-week period, the amount of COVID-19 cases has fluctuated while averaging 231 new cases per day, according to the El Paso official COVID-19 data websiteOver the past seven days 10.49% of people who got tested in El Paso were positive for Covid-19.  

“Anything below 7.2% is going to be a good number,” Gov. Greg Abbott said at a news conference in May. “If the positivity test rate is more than 10%, that’s one of those red flags that we begin to look at.” 

Until further guidance, any in-person operations will require social distancing and face masks as a precaution. Remote operations are encouraged when possible and small workgroups of no more than 10 people under these new guidelines. 

After suspending school operations March 13, UTEP was able to use the rest of the semester as a test run for going entirely online. Although the transition created new challenges for UTEP’s Technology Support Group, which has never encountered so many students working online before.  

“The work that we did was unprecedented,” Frank Poblano, executive director of UTEP’s Technology Support Group told the El Paso Herald. “Our ability to adapt was put to the test. The situation was stressful, but I had no doubt that we would be successful.” 

For some, a considerable part of the college experience is joining an organization, club or fraternity. These activities will still be available, but much like classes, in a virtual form. Dorm space will be limited to one person rooms. 

Testing will be available for all students who have classes on campus beginning Aug. 24There are four locations planned for testing: The Fox Fine Arts Complex lower level courtyard, the breezeway between the Engineering and Classroom buildings, the Union breezeway, and the Undergraduate Learning Center patio. According to UTEP, these locations could be changed at any given time with prior communication. 

There are still many facets of the college semester that have yet to be worked out. 

Football and soccer seasons are scheduled to start within the next month but have yet to issue any guidelines for fans to attend games. Limited capacities are expected, according to UTEP Athletics, but guidance is still being evaluated. 

With so much out of the realm of control for administrators, professors and students, there are few certainties for the upcoming semester outside of most of it being taught remotely. For more information and updates regarding UTEP’s COVID-19 guidelines, visit utep.edu./Covid-19.

Michael Cuviello may be reached at [email protected].edu