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Guidance and FAQs on COVID-19

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Updated: April 2, 2020 


Read Chancellor Milliken's prepared remarks to the March 27 meeting of the Board of Regents.

This site is provided to help UT institutions communicate with their faculty, staff, patients and students regarding COVID-19. Policies and practices will vary depending on each institution’s unique circumstances and needs. Because the response to this pandemic continues to evolve, students, employees, patients and community members should refer to each institution’s COVID-19 resources for the most up-to-date information. Links to current UT institution COVID-19 websites are provided on our Institutional Guidance page. Additionally, a March 17 letter from Chancellor Milliken to the presidents of UT's eight academic institutions, offering specific direction about the remainder of the spring semester, may be found here.  (COVID-19 response actions taken by the UT System's six health institutions will vary and are not addressed in the letter to academic presidents.)

The UT System will update questions and answers as the situation evolves. View a recording of the Chancellor's March 24 Virtual Town Hall Meeting for UT System Administration staff.

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.


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 can leaders, managers, and supervisors do to help their institutions respond to the COVID-19 pandemic?
  • Review your department’s business continuity and contingency plans.
  • Identify all critical business operations and designate and inform the responsible individuals and backup personnel.
  • Maintain updated emergency contact lists.
  • Provide telecommuting options and adjusted job duties for employees as needed.
  • Support employees who are telecommuting by sharing resources and keeping them informed of training and other opportunities.
  • Explain the steps employees can take to protect themselves and help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. This information can be found on the CDC’s website.
  • Plan in advance for the possibility of increased employee absences.
  • Stay 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 meet virtually with the institution presidents at least twice per week 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 are also meeting regularly with their counterparts at the institutions to offer assistance and guidance. A cross-functional team representing multiple System Administration departments is also meeting twice-weekly to communicate and coordinate responses to and from the institutions and federal, state and local government and health officials.

Governor Abbott recently appointed Dr. Zerwas to serve on a statewide strike force with responsibility for hospital relations and preparedness. Dr. Lakey is also coordinating with state officials on the COVID-19 response and protections. Both are working closely with the UT health institutions to ensure they are able to most effectively serve patients and protect employees.

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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?

Institutions are suspending all non-essential domestic and international travel at this time.

In addition, many cities and counties in Texas have issued stay-at-home orders restricting travel of any kind except for 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?

All students, trainees, faculty and staff returning from international travel must immediately notify their UT institution, self-isolate, and not return to work or school for 14 days after they return. Travelers returning from countries with ongoing COVID-19 transmission should not visit their student health clinics or other health facilities at UT institutions before first calling the health clinic.

On March 26, 2020, Governor Abbot issued an Executive Order mandating a 14-day self-quarantine for every person who enters the State of Texas as the final destination through an airport, from a point of origin or point of last departure in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, or the City of New Orleans.

On March, 29, 2020, Governor Abbott expanded the March 26, 2020 Executive Order to require anyone flying from Miami, Atlanta, Detroit, Chicago, California, Washington, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, or New Orleans to self-quarantine for 14 days.  The order also now includes a self-quarantine requirement for any entering Texas from Louisiana via road travel.

Institutions may have additional 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.

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 or grant emergency leave on a case-by-case basis.

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.

Is there any systemwide guidance on telecommuting?

No.  Telecommuting processes and approvals vary by institution.

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

An institution should first decide if the employee is able to telecommute. If the answer is yes, the employee should follow their institution’s guidance regarding telecommuting.  If the answer is no, under current law, the employee may have 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;
  • The employee may request state paid emergency leave; 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 consistent with the terms of each plan, including physician services, hospitalization, and emergency services.
  • A primary care physician copayment will apply for medically necessary 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.
  • Virtual doctor visits through MDLIVE continue to be available with no out-of-pocket costs and can be used when appropriate.
  • 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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