Citing a surge in the Delta coronavirus variant, the University of Texas at San Antonio has announced that students will spend the first three weeks of the fall semester studying mostly in virtual classes.
The university of 30,000 students was set to begin its fall semester on Aug. 23 with in-person classes, but city public health officials have raised risk levels to severe in San Antonio, as cases there have crowded medical facilities.
“Since the very beginning of the pandemic, we committed to put the health and safety of our entire campus community first,” wrote the university’s president, Taylor Eighmy, in a statement on Wednesday announcing the shift.
The announcement comes as universities across the country — concerned about the spreading Delta variant — are reviewing their reopening plans. San Antonio appeared to be the first major school announcing a shift to virtual classes amid growing concern over whether universities and public schools can insure the safety of students.
While professors and students on the University of Texas campuses have been pushing for ramped up safety measures, university leaders are hamstrung by an executive order issued by Gov. Greg Abbott that bars schools, among many other entities, from requiring vaccines or masks.
Texas is averaging more than 14,000 new cases a day, more than double the level just two weeks ago, according to a New York Times database. At least 53 Texas hospitals report that their intensive care units are at maximum capacity. In San Antonio, virus cases have reached levels not seen in months.
The three major public universities in Arizona — Arizona State, the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University — announced on Wednesday that they were instituting mandatory mask policies, despite a state prohibition on mask mandates. The state’s daily average of new cases has risen more than 70 percent over the past two weeks, reaching 2,450.
The trustees of the University of Arkansas, which includes seven campuses, voted to require masks in all its facilities on Wednesday. The decision followed a ruling by an Arkansas judge last week temporarily blocking the state from enforcing its mask mandate ban. Average cases in Arkansas had been at less than 200 from March to early June, but have now have risen to more than 2,300.
The University of Texas at San Antonio also announced it would institute a mandatory coronavirus testing protocol, beginning with students moving into dormitory rooms, which will open on schedule beginning Aug. 16.