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Here’s how UTEP is adapting to the pandemic this fall

To+adapt+to+COVID-19%2C+UTEP+has+implemented+testing+and+educational+resources+about+staying+safe.
Claudia Hernandez
To adapt to COVID-19, UTEP has implemented testing and educational resources about staying safe.

UTEP President Heather Wilson and other university officials held a virtual town hall meeting on Aug. 11 to discuss the institution’s reopening plans, implemented strategies to maintain its safety, and upcoming events. Here are some basic things you need to know about navigating the new normal at UTEP this semester.

Being on campus

UTEP’s recovery status is currently functioning under limited operations. This means that only essential personnel are remaining on campus while others are operating remotely, and groups must be restricted to less than 10 people at a time with a mandatory six feet distance and mask covering. The risk is being further reduced with 75% of courses being conducted online, 20% in a hybrid mode, and only five percent fully face to face.

“We are trying to balance the need to keep you on track for your degree and provide a high quality education with the healthcare needs not only of you, as a student, but of your family, and of the family of the student that may be next to you,” said Wilson, who was joined by Vice President of Student Affairs Gary Edens and President of the Student Government Association Jessica Martinez.

UTEP is scrupulously enforcing prudent health practices regulations for hybrid and face-to-face courses, along with essential faculty and staff still on campus, which includes wearing a face mask, social distancing at all times, frequent hand washing at a minimum of 20 seconds prior to and following surface contact, and encouraging that one remains at home if ill or having been exposed to the virus. If a person is unable to abide by the adherence of wearing a face mask due to a special need, they are to contact the Center for Accommodations and Support Services.

“We are a university; we protect health and safety. We deal with things here that require special consideration for health and safety and this fall, a face covering will be one of them. So, face coverings are mandatory on campus, and that’s just the way it is,” Wilson said.

Additionally, all students were required to complete a brief COVID-19 training where the campus guidelines with respect to the pandemic were comprehensibly outlined.There will also be an application available for iOS and Android devices that features three simple inquiries: have you experienced COVID symptoms, been exposed to someone who has or has tested positive, and if you yourself have recently undergone testing. The application will serve as a standardized screening tool with the purpose of maintaining up to date records and allowing a proper assessment of whether or not it is safe for a student to return to campus.

“Throughout our facilities on campus you’re going to see a lot of new things and a lot of signages and basic requirements that will ensure your safety and the safety of your fellow students,” Edens said.

COVID testing and CARES funding

Another notable incorporation will be the UTEP Coronavirus Proactive Testing Program. This program is to be administered free of charge, voluntarily and conveniently at four accessible locations to include the Fox Fine Arts Complex’s lower level courtyard, the Breezeway between the Engineering and Classroom buildings, Union Breezeway, and the Undergraduate Learning Center patio. Samples will be evaluated in the biology building with rapidly available results in a matter of 24-48 hours. The criteria for eligibility is that the student or faculty member does not exhibit symptoms and submits a consent form which can be found at utep.edu/covidtesting.

After a few weeks of being in operation, UTEP’s positivity rate was less than one percent right before the fall semester.

Additional support for students has come in the form of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief , and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding which has also served to provide additional opportunities for students through internship placements, round-the-clock counseling support, and the Center for Accommodations and Support Services all of which can be accessed by order of appearance at utep.edu/utepcares, 915-747-5302 or [email protected]. To learn more about UTEP’s CARES Act funding, visit the institution’s CARES website.

Other resources and services

Other resources like the food pantry, located at Memorial Gym, can also be accessed with a Miner Gold Card. Select transportation resources are being offered at reduced fees as well and the Student Health and Wellness Center is satisfying appointments both virtually and physically. If any student finds themselves in a strenuous financial position due to COVID-19, they are encouraged to reach out to a financial aid advisor to discuss possible package adjustments. A student emergency fund has also been set in place for students who are ineligible for federal financial aid.

Considering the financial side of things, any conjecture of the waiving of tuition fees that’s sprouted due to the online transitions taking place during this pandemic was also discussed during the town hall address.

“I think it’s important also to mention that UTEP has always, at a very core central value taken tuition and the low cost of our tuition and education to heart,” Edens said. “We are going to continue to take the cost of tuition very seriously and we want you to know we have a lot of resources out there for students who are having difficulty paying tuition and fees.”

Much of the tuition fees are allotted to faculty and staff salary and incidental fees have been respectively refunded or significantly reduced such as in the case with boarding and parking permits. Mandatory fees were stressed for their inherent meaning which is just that, mandatory. These fees are also not based on per-student usage but allocated to arranged and agreed upon building enhancements and operations such as the the Recreational Sports Center.

“We are going to be able to get the rec center open. I know some of you may be studying online, not able to use the rec center and I think that’s unfair; I understand that,” Wilson said. “At the same time, the student body voted to build the rec center and the rec center fee mostly goes to pay off the bonds and you pay that fee even if you don’t use the rec center.”

UTEP, however, plans to hopefully reopen the facility this fall semester in a way that abides by health and safety regulations.

“What we really want to make sure is happening is that you’ll be able to utilize those services and that’s why the team here at the rec center and at the library and at the union has been working tirelessly to make sure that the buildings were prepared and we are confident that we can do that in a safe way this fall semester,” Edens said.

As for the new virtual process, faculty and staff are working to enhance the online academic experience while simultaneously trying to provide students with a sense of interaction. This includes hosting the 30th annual Minerpalooza celebration virtually this year on Sept. 4 at 8 p.m., along with functional student resources such as the Virtual Job Fair & Career Expo set for Sept. 2 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Virtual enhancement efforts are going especially to ensuring that the online learning experience goes as seamless as possible for students having to reacclimate in these unprecedented times.

Some words of encouragement

The informative discussion culminated with a word of advice from Martinez.

“You can only live your college experience once and we don’t want to let this pandemic affect how we are as students and how we perform in our classes so reach out to your peers, make friends, get involved, participate in Minerpalooza,” Martinez said. “I really want to encourage everyone to make the most out of this semester and the rest of this year and just don’t forget Miners take care of Miners.”

Sasha Minjarez may be reached at [email protected]

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Here’s how UTEP is adapting to the pandemic this fall