I hope this email finds you well. This is a very fluid time due to the increasing positive cases across Texas and substantive community spread. Yesterday, Governor Abbott announced that the state of Texas will pause any further phases to open Texas as the state responds to the recent increase in positive COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, and The Texas A&M University System recently shared updated guidance on the phased return to work. Today, I would like to update you on the impact of the latest guidance, as well as a few additional operational items for your awareness.
In mid-May, we issued guidance regarding a phased approach to returning employees to the workplace. This phased approach began with 25% of employees being allowed to return to campus and moved to 50% as of June 1. On July 1, the Phase 3 adjustment would have allowed up to 100% of employees to return to campus based on each unit’s operational needs and managerial discretion. In light of the recent growth in COVID-19 cases, AgriLife is suspending the implementation of Phase 3 until Aug. 1. Therefore, Phase 2 guidance will remain in effect until then (up to 50% of employees in any area).
It is important to note that these percentages are not targets that must be achieved. If what your unit is currently doing is working well and meeting your business needs, there is no need to adjust your current practices. Some divisions have adopted a rotational approach where, for example, certain staff will come to the office Mondays and Wednesdays and a different group will come to the office Tuesdays and Thursdays. Plans of this nature will be communicated directly by your supervisor.
As before, we will continue to monitor what is happening and adjust this plan accordingly. If additional adjustments are needed, they will be communicated to you in a timely manner.
As stated in previous guidance,
- Employees should minimize in-person meetings and follow social distancing and meeting size requirements. Should your local health authority implement stricter guidance, please adhere to this guidance.
- Face masks must be worn in our facilities’ indoor public spaces , must be worn on public transportation and wherever a six-foot social distancing radius cannot be maintained. Please see Texas A&M’s helpful page on face coverings. You may request an exception due to disability by contacting Jennifer Hobbs.
- Per System guidance, faculty, staff and students are encouraged to bring their own water to minimize touching of common water fountains.
- On the Texas A&M University campus, SSC Services continues to prioritize cleaning measures to prevent spread of the virus. This group is also continuing to provide disinfectant wipes and other supplies that support healthy hygiene. In off-campus AgriLife locations, hygiene supplies and personal protective equipment should be sourced locally. If you need help sourcing personal protective equipment or other supplies, contact David DeLeon.
Reporting of Cases
AgriLife employees who:
- develop symptoms of COVID-19, or,
- in the previous 14 days, if they have traveled to an area that requires quarantine upon return home, or
- have been in contact with anyone known or suspected to have tested positive for COVID-19 must notify their supervisor, who will then ask that the individual complete an online form, and also contact Debi Fincher.
General Travel Guidelines
Continue to follow current protocol for travel authorization through your direct supervisor. Employees engaged in business-related and personal travel who suspect they have been exposed to SARS-CoV-2 while away from the university or agency are required to notify their supervisor and place themselves in self-quarantine for a period of time in accordance with current CDC guidance.
Within the state of Texas, all traveling employees should review the current community transmission of COVID-19 in the locations they will be traveling through or to.
Out-of-state travel must be deemed mission critical and approved by the CEO or designee in Concur. Employees traveling outside of Texas should review the CDC COVID Data Tracker prior to travel.
No international travel is endorsed at this time.
As per the Governor’s proclamation this week, outdoor events are now limited to 100 people. For each agency, our guidance may vary slightly based on the nature of our work and our audiences. AgriLife units on the Bryan-College Station campus should continue to follow TAMU limits for in-person employee and staff business meetings and/or gatherings at the university, which in light of recent community spread, will allow up to 30 people if social distancing can be maintained and 50% room capacity is not exceeded.
AgriLife Research units on the Bryan-College Station campus should continue to follow TAMU limits for visitors, limited to parties of less than five visitors on campus for meetings with departmental staff for essential business or employment recruitment. Approvals should be routed through Dr. David Ragsdale.
For AgriLife Research off-campus units, as of July 1st, with approval from Dr. David Ragsdale, can allow up to 30 people if social distancing can be maintained and 50% room capacity is not exceeded. Extension personnel should continue to follow Extension guidance based on the activity. Should your local health authority implement stricter guidance, please adhere to their guidance.
Many centers are getting community requests for events to be held at our facilities. AgriLife has an existing facilities rental use form and an occupancy agreement. A new COVID-19 form for participants to complete will now be used as an addendum to these forms. This is similar to what Extension already has in place for youth events.
Thank you for your efforts, and stay well,
Patrick J. Stover, Ph.D.
Vice Chancellor, Texas A&M AgriLife
Dean, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
Director, Texas A&M AgriLife Research