The University of Texas at El Paso began the fall 2021 semester with a 3.5% drop in enrollment from the previous year. Still, more than 24,000 students returned to campus, even while many worried about the possibility of contracting COVID-19.
“That’s the only thing I’m scared of,” Analaura Castillo said
Castillo is a UTEP industrial engineering major. She has personal reasons to be concerned.
“I have the vaccine, but I have a younger sister so she’s not able to get it,” Castillo said.
UTEP freshman Esther Afangideh said she feels perfectly safe on campus.
“ I don’t feel the need that I need to wear a mask to my classrooms or anything even though there’s a lot of kids, I feel really safe on campus,” she said.
UTEP does not enforce a mask or vaccine mandate on campus because it is not allowed by the state of Texas. UTEP’S Environmental Health and Safety department tracks the campus COVID data. They advise students who test positive to self-report. The number of active cases is not made known to students. An online COVID dashboard launched in September 2020 is no longer available on the university’s website.
Borderzine reached out to the university’s public information office for permission to receive the current campus COVID-19 data tracked by the EHS. After assurances they would respond with the information requested, they have not responded to repeated requests.
Things are much different at New Mexico State University.
About 14,000 students returned to NMSU’S Las Cruces campus this fall which represents a 2% drop in enrollment from fall 2020.
NMSU requires that everyone wear a mask indoors to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. Students and staff must upload their vaccination status or submit weekly COVID tests to VAX TRACK, a database implemented September 30 to monitor the University’s COVID-19 data.
Early August 2021 New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham issued an executive order that state employees must adhere to vaccination or weekly testing. The VAX TRACK database was created in response to that order. The database monitors more than 28,000 students and teachers systemwide.
A COVID-19 dashboard showing the active NMSU cases is readily accessible, updated daily and available for the public to view at now.nmsu.edu. Jon Webster, NMSU COVID-19 Project Manager, is in charge of those daily updates.
“We have tried our best to be an open book,” Webster said.
Webster updates the dashboard Monday through Friday. He also participates in a public COVID-19 town hall held each Tuesday of every month.
“We talk about all this information; people submit us questions, we answer them directly, we don’t, we don’t keep anything secretive to the best we can,” Webster said.
As of October 13, 95% of faculty and staff at NMSU were complying with the new VAX TRACK database system.
Webster says of the positive cases reported to the database, they have yet to trace one back to campus. All COVID-19 positive results have been traced back to friends, family and neighbors, not the university.
Webster believes their efforts to contain the spread are working.
“Everything we do is in the interest of creating a safer environment for our faculty staff and students,” he said. “We’re not doing this to hurt anyone we don’t want anyone to not comply we we just want to make sure that everyone is safe. This is all scary for a lot of people so we want to do the best we can.”