A Texas cheerleader runs onto the field with a giant Longhorns flag before an NCAA college football game between Texas and Kansas State on Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019, in Austin, Texas. [NICK WAGNER/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

Football

Texas athletics issues 48-page guide with rules on returning to work amid coronavirus pandemic

Posted May 19th, 2020

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Texas athletic officials issued a 48-page guide to their employees Tuesday that dove into granular detail about how Longhorns coaches and staff can safely return to work.

The majority of UT’s 375 employees office in the north end zone of Royal-Memorial Stadium. Going forward, employees will have to fill out an online questionnaire at home before showing up, according to a document reviewed by the American-Statesman.

In addition, they must pass a temperature check to get into the building, wear a face covering at all times and practice social distancing, according to the document. This is the new normal for the time being.

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“Athletics employees can prevent and slow the spread of COVID-19 by following the recommended guidelines and procedures,” the Texas Athletics Employee Guide For COVID-19 states. “Employees should plan to respond in a flexible way to varying levels of disease transmission in the workplace and be prepared to refine their approach as needed.”

The Texas athletic department issued a guide to employees on returning to work in the coronavirus. One page showed how to wash your hands while singing “The Eyes of Texas.” Courtesy UT Athletics

A small number of UT administrators tested the new procedures late last week. Texas coach Tom Herman, his coaching staff, assorted football personnel and some essential facilities employees — about 30 in all — returned to work Monday following the procedures outlined in the manual.

However, any UT employee that wants to return to work must get approval from his or her supervisor. As of now, no athletes will be allowed into Royal-Memorial Stadium. All athletic facilities remain closed to athletes.

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby has said in interviews that athletes may be allowed to return sometime in June.

In various Zoom meetings, Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte has stressed to the workforce that anyone who wants to stay at home can continue to work remotely. “All Athletics employees need to consider how best to decrease the spread of COVID-19 and lower the impact in our workplace,” the guide states.

Deputy athletics director Shawn Eichorst oversaw a committee of about 20 people to compile the document. Eichorst incorporated some of the protocols being used by the four active construction sites around Texas athletics, Del Conte said.

“They say it takes you 20 days to break a habit to form a habit,” Del Conte said in an interview with the Statesman Tuesday. “Starting now creates these habits that is what we need to do to get back into a sense of normalcy around campus.”

Several schools across the country have started letting coaches and employees back into their facilities. But none so far have issued guidelines as stringent as UT’s. Every UT employee is required to acknowledge that they have read and understood the guidelines.

UT’s COVID-19 manual has links to health information, best practices, rules for workplace entry and how to properly wash your hands in tune to “The Eyes of Texas.” According to school officials, it’s meant to be a living document that will adapt as policies change and health information becomes readily available.

Each day, employees must navigate a series of steps just to come to work and get in the building, according to the guidelines.

In the mornings, “All employees are required to complete a daily, online COVID-19 screening questionnaire for symptoms prior to leaving home, including checking your temperature if you can,” the manual states.

Screening questions include whether that person was in contact with another person who tested positive. Are you coughing or have shortness of breath? Do you have a fever above 99.6 degrees, chills, shaking or muscle pain. If the UT employee answers no, his or her name is forwarded to a list at the north end zone door.

“These are THE ONLY permissible entry doors for essential employees. All other entry points with proxy access will be disabled,” the manual states.

Employees are required to wear face coverings at all times in the facility. Hand washing stations will be set up, and all employees will be required to use them.

A temperature check by medical personnel is first required to gain access, the manual states.

“If non-fever, and survey cleared, a color-coded wristband will be provided with a different color each day,” the manual states. “The wristband must be worn at all times, every day to demonstrate employee has been cleared and is authorized to be in the facility.”

The manual lists a series of requirements and protocols when employees are inside Royal-Memorial Stadium, like maintaining six feet of distance and only three people to an elevator.

“Do not allow anyone into your private office unless absolutely necessary,” the manual states. “Turn chairs upside down to limit and prevent others from joining you.”

The concourse area inside Gate 8 — where the Torchy’s Tacos stand is located — has been designated as a medical area for those with elevated temperatures.

“Remember, there is the possibility that you have already contracted COVID-19 and are an asymptomatic carrier who is capable of spreading the virus despite not showing symptoms,” the manual states. “You should always conduct yourself as if that is the case. These policies and procedures are designed to minimize risk to yourself and others.”

A manual like this will become something of a roadmap for schools everywhere. Del Conte has been steadfast in his belief that UT will host football games in the fall as the Longhorns return to action.

However, this manual does not state what kind of gameday procedures will be in place should games go off as scheduled. That is likely to come later. UT athletics chief of staff Chris Plonsky is responsible for overseeing a committee forming guidelines to be followed by athletes.

As for when athletes will return, Del Conte still isn’t sure.

“There are many layers to this,” Del Conte said. “You have the Power Five (conferences), the local conferences and the NCAA. And we’ll come to some conclusion here I’m assuming in the next couple of weeks. But I’d say we’re having great unified conversations.”

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com.

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