University of Texas at Austin will require all students, faculty and staff to wear masks inside buildings

AUSTIN, Texas (KTRK) -- The University of Texas at Austin will require all students, faculty and staff to wear face masks in campus buildings next fall to prevent the spread of COVID-19, interim Dean Jay Hartzell announced Monday.

UT-Austin appears to be the first university in the state to implement a mandatory face mask policy for the fall semester. In an email to the UT community, Hartzell said students and faculty may remove their face coverings in a campus building if they are alone in a private office or in their residence hall room. Masks will be encouraged in outdoor areas of campus, and enforcement measures will be announced later. The university is also planning to test asymptomatic individuals and routinely screen people for symptoms as they enter buildings on campus.

"This policy - which is currently in place for the summer - is consistent with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which makes clear that face coverings, in addition to social distancing measures, are among the most effective strategies in limiting the spread of COVID-19, particularly in high-density areas," Hartzell said in the email.

Hartzell said employee furloughs have begun, but the university did not immediately provide details about how many people were affected.

Institutions are steeling themselves for major economic blows from the pandemic. UT-Austin had previously announced that furloughs and a hiring freeze were imminent, while layoffs are a likely possibility in the near future. State leaders have also directed certain higher education institutions and agencies to reduce their budgets by 5%; Hartzell said these cuts will be released shortly.

UT-Austin is in the process of navigating strategies to mitigate COVID-19 spread for the fall semester. Last week, Hartzell announced that more than 2,000 classes will be online, while on-campus classes will run from August to Thanksgiving and then continue remotely in an effort to limit student travel. Meanwhile, classrooms will be limited to 40% of their capacity, and classes will take place between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. to reduce the number of students on campus at any given time.

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