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UT Austin classes resume with no mask requirement amid COVID-19 surge

Students return to the Forty Acres on Wednesday as the semester begins at UT Austin. The university is encouraging everyone to mask up indoors.

AUSTIN, Texas — The University of Texas at Austin is back in session for the fall semester Wednesday.

In-person classes are starting at a time when Austin-area intensive care beds are the fullest they’ve been with COVID-19 patients since the start of the pandemic, according to data from the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Despite that, UT is trying to have classes look as close to fall 2019 as possible with a big focus on in-person learning. A majority of classes are expected to be held in-person at similar levels to pre-pandemic times. 

“We have to find a way to engage with our lives as safely as possible, recognizing that this is going to be in the environment. And we have to recognize that the in-person experience for our students and for our faculty who teach is also extraordinarily important,” said Art Markman, a member of the university’s COVID-19 executive committee.

The university is not requiring masks in accordance with the governor’s executive order that bans mask mandates. Instead, UT leaders are strongly encouraging students and staff to mask up when indoors.

UT also wants students and staff to get vaccinated, tested and be safe outside of class as well.

“As easy as it has been over the last couple of decades to decide that, that 18 to 22 year olds just can't control themselves, I think what we found is that the lion's share of our students really stepped up and did what was needed to protect themselves and their community,” Markman said.

UT asked students to get a negative test before coming back to campus, which proved to be a struggle for some students. The university extended the deadline to Friday to submit test results.

Professors will be able to offer incentives to students for wearing a mask in the classroom. Examples include a sticker or a candy bar, Markman said.

Professors may continue to hold office hours remotely, according to UT’s COVID website.

“Last year was a bet on our students that they would step up and engage in testing and do what was required to have a safe school year,” Markman said. “And that's what we had. And we're pursuing the same strategy this year.”

WATCH: UT students scrambling to get COVID-19 tests

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