As several Texas universities announce COVID-19 testing on campus, UTSA remains unclear

Josh Peck, News Editor

It remains unclear whether UTSA will mirror decisions made by several UT institutions and the entire Texas A&M system to provide COVID-19 testing on campus in light of statements from UTSA administrators, a comment from a university spokesperson and a change to UTSA’s coronavirus FAQ page. 

The statement, which was made on July 28, came from President Taylor Eighmy, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Kimberly Espy and Chief Financial Officer and Senior Vice President for Business Affairs Veronica Mendez. They said the Public Health Task Force’s (PHTF) next report would offer more guidance on issues such as “proper mask wearing, symptom reporting and testing.” 

In response to a question about whether the university would offer COVID-19 testing to students, Chief Communications Officer and Associate Vice President for Strategic Communications and External Affairs Joe Izbrand said “A number of options are being evaluated by our Public Health Task Force for on-campus health and wellbeing. We expect the next update from the team in early August.”

A member of the PHTF, who did not wish to be named because they were afraid of retaliation, said they were skeptical about the way the group’s work was being portrayed by the university.  

“Actual activity since the recent spike in cases has been much lower than what official UTSA communications suggest,” the member said. “Smaller, more focused committees on campus are doing more for their related departments and programs than the visible PHTF. Efforts to prepare for the fall are disjointed rather than united.”

Recently, the university removed a response on its coronavirus FAQ page which said it would not be “feasible or practical to implement mass testing” for COVID-19 at this time on campus. Now, a question on the FAQ asking where to get tested says this: 

“If you are a student living on campus: Call the Student Health Services Nurse telephone triage line … to receive instructions before visiting Student Health Services.” 

The FAQ advised students not living on campus to seek testing from Bexar County Metro Health, and faculty and staff were advised to call their health care providers.

The Texas A&M system has already begun offering free COVID-19 testing to students, faculty and staff on some of its campuses. The public university system is sending 15,000 testing kits each month across its institutions, and the system has set aside $16 million for the testing program. Those with symptoms or who have been in close contact with people confirmed or suspected to have the COVID-19 virus will be prioritized in testing, according to a statement from Texas A&M Provost Carol Fierke

UT Austin will also be offering free COVID-19 testing to students. Faculty and staff will receive free testing through their university healthcare plan. UT students can receive a subsidy from the university that covers the cost of the test if they are uninsured or if their insurance doesn’t cover the cost, although it is unclear how that subsidy can be acquired. 

Both UT Arlington and UT El Paso have said they will be providing free COVID-19 testing to students.

Updated: Since the story was originally published, UT Austin changed its policy and will now be offering free COVID-19 testing to all students.