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Read Chancellor Milliken's prepared remarks to the Board of Regents at its May 6 meeting

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Guidance and FAQs on COVID-19

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Updated: May 29, 2020 

This site provides general information and guidance to support UT institutions in their communications with faculty, staff, patients and students regarding COVID-19. Please refer to each institution’s COVID-19 resources for the most up-to-date information and specific policies and practices.  

UT institutions are on the frontlines in the battle against COVID-19, providing patient care, conducting testing, leading clinical trials, working to develop treatments and vaccines and ensuring students have the education, resources and support they need. Highlights of their service to Texas are updated daily.

If you have questions that you would like considered for inclusion on this FAQ page, please submit them to COVID-19@utsystem.edu. If you have a question that requires a direct and prompt response, contact the appropriate office at your institution.

Watch the Virtual Town Hall meeting led by UT System Chancellor James B. Milliken for System Administration staff on May 29.


FAQ Table of Contents

 


 

Additional Resources

 


General: Preparation and Response

Every UT institution is carefully monitoring information provided by the Centers for Disease Control and local, county and state public health authorities. According to their specific needs and the public health situation in their regions, changes to daily operations have become necessary for public health reasons. While many employees at UT institutions and the UT System Administration are telecommuting as a safety precaution, leaders and managers are ensuring that business operations continue in support of the institutions’ critical education, health care and research missions.

What are leaders, managers, and supervisors doing to help their institutions respond to the COVID-19 pandemic?
  • Maintaining department’s business continuity and contingency plans.

  • Ensuring continuity of all critical business operations, with responsible individuals and backup personnel designated.

  • Provide telecommuting options and adjusted job duties for employees as needed.

  • Supporting employees who are telecommuting by sharing resources and keeping them informed of training and other opportunities.

  • Providing information to help employees protect themselves and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. This information can be found on the CDC’s website.

  • Planning in advance for the possibility of increased employee absences.

  • Updating and maintaining  emergency contact lists.

  • Staying informed of institution communications related to COVID-19, the latest public health information released by the CDC and state, county and local public health officials. 

What is the UT System doing to support the institutions and the state?

Chancellor Milliken, Executive Vice Chancellors Leslie and Zerwas, Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs and Chief Medical Officer Lakey and Chief Compliance and Risk Officer Dendy regularly meet virtually with the institution presidents to discuss challenges facing the institutions, determine the support needed and share best practices. Representatives from UT System’s HR, legal and risk management offices also meet regularly with their counterparts at the institutions to offer assistance and guidance. A cross-functional team representing multiple System Administration departments meets weekly to communicate and coordinate responses to and from the institutions and federal, state and local government and health officials.

Governor Abbott appointed Dr. Zerwas to serve on a statewide task force with responsibility for hospital relations and preparedness and as a medical advisor on his Strike Force to Open Texas. Dr. Lakey is coordinating with state officials on the COVID-19 response and protections. Both are working closely with the UT health institutions to help them most effectively serve patients and protect employees. 

What financial assistance, if any, is available to students whose educational experience has been impacted by COVID-19?

Affected students should check with their respective institution, as they may be eligible for emergency assistance grants. Many institutions have existing emergency grant programs. In April, 2020, the U.S. Department of Education made additional student emergency grant funds available. 

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Employee and Student Travel

Are institutions permitting students and employees to travel at this time? If so, what is the approval process?

On May 21, Governor Abbott terminated the air travel restrictions the state had implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The order also eliminated the need for international travelers and those arriving from designated areas to self-isolate for 14 days. However, most institutions have suspended non-essential domestic and international travel at this time.

In addition, many cities and counties in Texas continue to have stay-at-home orders in place advising that travel be limited to essential activities.

Refer to institution-specific COVID-19 resources for additional information related to travel restrictions, approval of essential travel and reporting requirements.

The CDC answers common travel-related questions, including the risk of infection on airplanes, here

May institutions require employees to report their personal travel or travel by employees’ household members?

Yes, institutions may require employees to report their personal travel plans as well as the plans of household members. Travel plans of household members may also impact an employee’s need to self-isolate. 

In addition, an institution may lawfully deny an employee’s request to use vacation or other paid time off for personal travel. 

Please evaluate your personal travel plans and, if traveling, please consider how your planned trip may affect your ability to return to work.

Refer to institution-specific COVID-19 resources for additional information related to travel restrictions and reporting requirements. 

What are UT community members required to do upon return from travel?

On May 20, 2020, Governor Abbott issued an executive order terminating air travel restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as mandatory temporary quarantines for travelers from other states.  

However, institutions may have their own reporting, self-isolation and return to work requirements for both out-of-state and international return travelers. Refer to institution-specific COVID-19 resources for additional information related to travel restrictions and additional requirements.

Refer to the Health & Safety section below.

Refer to the Human Resources section below for information on employee telecommuting or leave during self-isolation.

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Health & Safety

Do students and employees have to report to their institution if they suspect they have COVID-19 or have a positive diagnosis of COVID-19?

Institutions may require employees to report whether they suspect they have COVID-19 or have a positive diagnosis of COVID-19. 

Students and employees should refer to their institution’s COVID-19 resources.

 

Will institutions share employees’ and students’ reports of suspected or positive COVID-19 cases with anyone outside of their institutions?

Institutions may provide information to local, state, or federal health authorities as requested to facilitate ongoing measures to address and prevent spread of the illness.  Institutions should follow the CDC recommendations related to reporting.

How should institutions treat confidential COVID-19 related health information they receive from employees?

Institutions should keep this information in confidential files separate from personnel files, consistent with information gathered for ADA and FMLA purposes.

How long does it take to get results from a COVID-19 test?

The time it takes to receive the results for a COVID-19 test varies by location and the type of test being performed. Some laboratories have a backlog of tests to process that results in a longer wait time. Tests that detect antibodies to the virus in a person’s bloodccan provide results more quickly but may give false negative results early during the course of the infection.  For more information about COVID-19 testing, please see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) testing website

If someone develops symptoms of respiratory illness and has traveled from an affected geographic area within 14 days of symptom onset or has other reason to believe that the symptoms are related to possible COVID-19 exposure, what steps should they take?

According to the CDC and other public health authorities, anyone exposed to COVID-19, even if asymptomatic, should self-isolate for 14 days. Those who contract COVID-19 will also be isolated and should follow the advice of medical personnel. In the case of employees, including faculty members, the institution should determine how to allow the employee to work remotely as able.

Call your medical provider to seek guidance if you suspect you have contracted COVID-19. Many providers are providing guidance through telehealth services or other means that could prevent a trip to the doctor’s office. If needed, the medical provider may direct you to come into the clinic or go to the emergency room if your symptoms are severe. Again, it is important to call ahead so that they are ready for your visit.

Your healthcare provider will work with the local health department to decide if COVID-19 testing is needed. Any individual suspected of having COVID-19 should be isolated from others while arrangements are made for transport to appropriate medical care.

The CDC recommends that individuals who have been confirmed as COVID-19 positive remain in isolation, either at home or in a health care facility (as determined by clinical status), until they are determined by state or local public health authorities, in coordination with the CDC, to be no longer infectious. The location of this isolation will be determined by public health authorities and isolation may be compelled by public health order, if necessary.

Mandatory quarantine orders are issued by public health authorities. Institutions may be asked to help implement quarantine or isolation orders or may require self-monitoring and social-distancing measures, including requesting students and employees to restrict their movements and public activities.

Employees who suspect they have COVID-19 or have received a positive diagnosis should notify their immediate supervisor verbally or in writing (email). Supervisors should determine how best to allow employees to work remotely if they are able and not already doing so.

The CDC has extensive guidance related to COVID-19, including specific guidance on “What To Do If You Are Sick” and “Caring For Yourself At Home.”

What should an employee do before returning to work after a period of self-isolation?

After the 14 days of self-isolation, individuals should contact their supervisor for updated guidance and requirements before returning to campus.

Does an institution have authority to restrict access to campus?

To limit the possibility of students, patients, staff or faculty being exposed to COVID-19, institutions may opt to restrict access to the campus by visitors, vendors and others not directly affiliated with the institution. Under Texas law, a UT institution may refuse to allow persons who have no legitimate business to enter UT property, and may eject any person who refuses to leave peaceably on request. 

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Human Resources

Who is defined as “essential personnel” at UT institutions?

Each department and institution should determine its essential personnel according to its functions and business needs.

If an employee is required to self-isolate based on institution policy, CDC or other guidance and has job duties that cannot be performed remotely during that period, how will the employee’s time off work be treated?

Under current law, for leave-eligible employees (those who work at least 20 hours and whose positions do not require student status):

  • The employee’s job duties may be temporarily adjusted to require work that can be performed remotely;

  • The employee may be eligible for leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) unless the institution has exempted the employee from coverage;

  • The employee may be eligible for other leave under the institution’s leave policies or practices; or

  • The employee may use their accrued paid leave (e.g., vacation leave or compensatory time) until it is exhausted.

After employees have exhausted accrued paid leave, institutions may require the employee to take unpaid leave. 

Under current law, for employees who are not leave-eligible:

  • The employee’s job duties may be temporarily adjusted to require work that can be performed remotely;

  • The employee may be eligible for leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) unless the institution has exempted the employee from coverage; or

  • If remote work is unavailable, the employees may be required to take unpaid leave. 

Does the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) entitle an employee to take leave to avoid contracting COVID-19?

No.  Generally, the FMLA provides protected leave for an employee’s own, actual serious health condition or for the employee to care for a family member (defined by law) who has an actual, serious health condition. A “serious health condition” does not include concern that COVID-19 or any other disease could be contracted.

Should UT require an employee who is out sick (not due to COVID-19) to provide a health care provider’s note before returning to work?

Institutions should consult with their human resources and legal offices and implement consistent protocols for deciding whether employees must provide medical documentation of their ability to return to work.

Will UT grant leave to an employee who is sick with COVID-19?

Generally, the institution’s sick leave policies and practices will apply if an employee or family member becomes ill from COVID-19.  The employee may be eligible for leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) unless the institution has exempted the employee from coverage.  Depending on the circumstances, including employee eligibility, the leave may also be designated as Family and Medical Leave.

Will UT allow employees who are parents or caregivers time off from work to care for sick family members with COVID-19?

Generally, the institution sick leave policies and practices will apply if an employee or family member becomes ill from COVID-19.  The employee may be eligible for leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) unless the institution has exempted the employee from coverage.  Depending on the circumstances, including employee eligibility, the leave may also be designated as Family and Medical Leave.

Employees may want to discuss with their supervisor the possibility of using leave intermittently.  Supervisors should contact their institution’s human resources or other appropriate office for guidance regarding employee leave.

May UT require an employee who contracted COVID-19, or who was possibly exposed to COVID-19 and directed to remain quarantined or practice social distancing, to provide certification from a health care provider before returning to work?

Institutions should consult with their human resources and legal offices and implement consistent protocols for deciding whether employees must provide medical documentation of their ability to return to work.

If an institution temporarily ceases operations in a department, section, building, or the campus due to COVID-19 and does not have work for affected employees to perform, can the institution require the employees to use their accrued paid leave if they want to be paid during the closure (i.e., when they are involuntarily off work)?

An institution may require employees to use their accrued paid leave when they are involuntarily off work.  In that case, employees without sufficient accrued paid leave to cover the work closure would not receive any pay during that time.

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, an institution is not required to pay non-exempt employees whose work schedule is reduced due to a temporary closure.  However, an institution is required to pay exempt employees their full salaries if the worksite is closed for less than a full workweek. In other words, if an exempt employee performs any work during the workweek, he or she must be paid their full, normal salary.

Rather than requiring employees to use accrued paid leave, could the institution provide paid emergency leave?

Texas law allows institution presidents to grant emergency leave if an employee requests the leave, the president determines the employee has shown good cause for it, and the president believes the employee intends to return to work at the end of the leave. The Governor’s Office has expressed that state agencies should minimize the use of emergency leave and instead utilize the new forms of federal leave provided by the FFCRA. 

Is there any systemwide guidance on telecommuting?

No.  Telecommuting processes and approvals vary by institution.

When primary/secondary schools and childcare centers are closed, can employees who are parents or caregivers take time off from work to care for their children impacted by the school closure?

If possible, the employee could telecommute according to their institution’s guidelines.  If telecommuting is not possible, current law provides employees with the following options, depending on their institution’s policies and practices:

  • The employee may use accrued paid leave until it is exhausted;

  • The employee may be eligible for leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) unless the institution has exempted the employee from coverage; or 

  • If the employee does not have enough accrued paid leave or cannot take leave under the FFCRA, the employee may be required to take unpaid leave. 

If an employee is on unpaid leave due to a temporary worksite closure, is the employee eligible for unemployment compensation?

The Texas Workforce Commission determines whether individuals are eligible for unemployment compensation. Employees are generally entitled to unemployment insurance if they are off work when a business temporarily shuts down and all other unemployment requirements are met. Institutions may encourage employees who have lost wages due to a temporary closure to apply for unemployment insurance benefits. 

If a student worker, working 19 hours or less, is on unpaid leave due to a temporary worksite closure, is the student worker eligible for unemployment compensation?

The Texas Workforce Commission determines whether individuals are eligible for unemployment compensation. Employees are generally entitled to unemployment insurance if they are off work when a business temporarily shuts down and all other unemployment requirements are met. This would include part time student workers as long as the student is earning regular wages, rather than work study or government wages. The state will have to determine the amount of benefit based on the student’s actual total earnings. Institutions may encourage employees who have lost wages due to a temporary closure to apply for unemployment insurance benefits. 

If essential personnel are required to work despite a worksite or campus closure, will they be eligible for hazard pay?

By Texas law, only certain law enforcement personnel are eligible for hazardous duty pay.

If an employee is confirmed to have contracted COVID-19 in the course and scope of employment, is the employee eligible for workers’ compensation benefits?

Any UT employee who believes he or she has suffered an on-the-job injury or illness should contact their WCI Representative to report the injury or illness.

If an employee is on unpaid leave due to a temporary worksite closure, may the employee accept outside employment?

Yes, but only if the employee’s institution approves that request after the employee follows the institution's procedures on accepting outside employment.

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Employee Benefits

Latest Updates from the Office of Employee Benefits.

Will UT SELECT provide coverage for COVID-19? What out-of-pocket cost should a Member expect to pay?
  • Effective immediately, the UT SELECT, and UT CONNECT plan will not require prior authorization and will waive member copayments, coinsurance, and deductibles associated with testing for COVID-19 when medically necessary and consistent with Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidance.
  • With regard to treatment for COVID-19, UT SELECT and UT CONNECT will cover medically necessary services at 100%including network physician services, hospitalization, and emergency services.
  • No primary care physician copayment will apply for medically necessary COVID-19 treatment delivered to a patient who may be quarantined under CDC guidelines in a setting other than inpatient.
  • For specific questions about your UT SELECT coverage, members should call your Blue Cross and Blue Shield Health Advocate at 866-882-2034.  For UT CONNECT please contact the CONNECT customer service team at 888-399-8889.
  • Telemedicine and telehealth visits for medical and behavioral health care will now be covered for patients seeking non-COVID-19 related care through their providers office.  A copayment will apply.  This will assist our members to maintain social distancing and stay-in-place requirements.
  • Virtual doctor visits through MDLIVE continue to be available with no out-of-pocket costs and can be used when appropriate.
  • Members seeking step down post-acute medical care will not be required to obtain a prior authorization prior to moving to post-acute care.  This allows hospitals to move and clear non-COVID-19 patients appropriately and timely.  Prior Authorization continues to be required for behavioral health post-acute care.
  • Any person experiencing illness should contact their doctor or MDLIVE. 
  • Should members need to access an early refill of prescription medication, they may do so through their UT SELECT and UT CONNECT prescription benefits. Express Scripts, our pharmacy benefit manager, has lifted the “refill too soon” limitations to accommodate early refills for prescription medications up to a 90-day supply.
  • All other UT Benefits programs will continue to operate according to the plan specifications outlined here. This includes dental, vision, Short Term Disability, Long Term Disability and Life Insurance. For disability and life insurance purposes, COVID-19 will be considered just as any other illness.

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