Observing health and safety guidelines and precautions on and off campus will benefit the entire community.
When the Texas Tech University campus closed in March due to COVID-19, university leadership began working immediately on a plan to safely welcome back students and employees once it was time to return to campus. The culmination of these efforts makes up the Texas Tech Commitment, the university's pledge to create a safe campus environment during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
But being a Red Raider also means being a part of the Lubbock community, and city leaders also are working to help keep students safe and healthy off campus.
"I want to welcome all Red Raiders back to Lubbock," said Mayor Dan Pope. "We're so happy you have chosen Texas Tech and Lubbock for this very important next step in your journey. The world looks different now, but if we all do our part, we'll soon be back to the things we love about Raiderland – football and basketball games, the Goin' Band, going to parties and hanging out with our friends. As new or returning residents of Lubbock, I ask that you follow COVID-19 guidelines, both on campus and off. Please do your part to keep those around you safe and healthy."
Ensuring community safety
Much of the work done by city leadership has been under the guidance of executive orders issued by Gov. Greg Abbott. That included a month-long order during April that called for the closure of businesses unless they were deemed essential. The executive state order ultimately left local leaders to decide which businesses would close and which would remain open.
In late April, Lubbock City Councilman Steve Massengale and other members of the Lubbock Economic Recovery Task Force sensed the governor would soon begin reopening the state. Massengale said the group started working on the Lubbock Safe! program, which provides health and safety guidelines for businesses as they reopen.
"We thought that, much like the way he directed us to close down by local authority, he would allow us to open up by local authority," Massengale said. "But when the governor reopened us, he made it a state mandate."
The move left the reopening guidelines up to state authority. The task force decided to take the plan they had created, build on the minimum restrictions from the state, and turn it into a voluntary program with even more robust health and safety guidelines.
"For those businesses that comply, it gives them a set of guidelines to be able to keep their customers and employees safe, therefore keeping those businesses open," Massengale said. "When a person visits a business that has earned the Lubbock Safe! designation, they can expect that the business has taken the necessary precautions to stop the spread of COVID-19. Today, those precautions include employees using masks or facial coverings; increased hygiene measures, like frequent hand washing and the sanitization of common areas; and adhering to social-distancing guidelines, including following occupancy limits. It's the foundation of keeping our economy open."
Currently, almost 1,000 locally and corporately owned businesses have completed the application process for the program. Businesses certified as Lubbock Safe! are listed on the City of Lubbock website and receive a window decal to place in their storefront. Massengale said the program is a reminder that ongoing precautions are still needed to help protect the entire community.
"The fact that we established a program that is fairly well known at this time maintains the awareness – it's important to remember we're in a pandemic and we're fighting a virus we're still learning about," Massengale said. "Our expectation for those within the community, including students returning to or arriving in Lubbock for the first time, is that they understand our guidelines, which shouldn't be much different from wherever they come from, and that they understand how important it is, not just for themselves, to follow these guidelines. They have to understand that if they are positive and asymptomatic, and they aren't following the restrictions, they could be endangering other people in vulnerable populations."
In addition to following health and safety guidelines when visiting Lubbock businesses, Lubbock Public Health Authority Dr. Ron Cook said it is also important for Red Raiders to make smart choices in other aspects of off-campus life.
"We're all social creatures by nature," said Cook, who also serves as a professor and the Braddock Chair of Family & Community Medicine at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center. "The college-age population is especially social. They come here to make lifelong friends and have lots of fun. However, given the current pandemic, individuals need to pay attention when it comes to social distancing and facial coverings or masks to make sure we don't continue to spread the virus."
Cook said those within the younger population may contract the virus and recover with little-to-no symptoms or complications. However, by not following health and safety guidelines, they risk exposing and infecting other individuals who may not fare as well. This includes at-risk family members, fellow students and others on campus and in the community.
"We have a number of individuals on our campuses who are high-risk," Cook said. "There are individuals who are vulnerable, and not everyone is comfortable disclosing information about their health. We must respect other people who may not do well if they contract the virus."
Cook said several situations and settings have the potential to significantly increase the spread of infection.
"With sororities, fraternities, all the social clubs and even gatherings off-campus parties, it could potentially spread like wildfire," Cook said. "I know it's going to be hard, but we have to learn how to develop a new culture that includes social distancing and facial coverings. It is a new way of life, unfortunately, until we understand this disease better."
Cook said it is important for those returning to or arriving in Lubbock to familiarize themselves with the precautions and guidelines the university and city have put into place.
"These efforts are intended to make this a very, very safe environment, and our first and foremost goal is to have a safe environment for learning," Cook said. "You come to college to learn, and leave here with the degree that will then lead you to a professional setting with its own set of expectations. College teaches us professional behavior, and right now, that behavior includes social distancing and facial coverings."
Ensuring personal safety
Stopping the spread of the coronavirus starts with individuals keeping themselves as safe as possible, including in their personal living spaces. In situations where a student is living with others off-campus and someone becomes ill, Cook said there are several things that can help slow or stop the spread within the same household.
"That is hard, and you're at high risk for catching it, but if you're not having any symptoms, certainly stay as far away from that individual as possible within the confines of the residence," Cook said. "Wear a mask, have your roommate(s) wear a mask and get some fresh air in the apartment by opening the windows."
It also is important to make frequent cleaning and disinfecting a priority in high-traffic or common areas, like the bathroom and kitchen, and to practice good personal hygiene, like frequent hand washing.
Cook said if one person is confirmed positive in a household, others who are symptomatic also should be tested. These symptoms could be as minor as a headache, runny nose or a cough – symptoms that could be mistaken for something like seasonal allergies.
Those not showing symptoms, Cook said, should wait about five days and then also get tested. Free drive-thru testing is available to all Texas Tech students and employees until Aug. 24.
"In the meantime, you need to quarantine or isolate yourself," Cook said. "Please go home and stay away from other people until you find out the result. Do not get tested and go back to class. Do not get tested and go off to a social function. You could be positive and spreading the virus.
"We've already had positive test results come in from asymptomatic individuals, we know that asymptomatic spread is in the community, and we just don't want it to spread. We ask that you respect the health of others as well as your own. We have no idea who will and will not do well. Our biggest concern is that we do not spread the virus to somebody who won't do well."
Cook said there is another important step individuals should take to protect themselves this fall and ensure they get the best care if they do get sick with an unknown illness.
"Everybody should go get their flu shot this year," Cook said. "If you can say, 'I've got the flu vaccine,' that takes away one of the possibilities, and we can say, 'If you're sick, this is probably not the flu, it may be COVID-19.' What we don't want is someone getting both the flu virus and the coronavirus at the same time. We haven't seen a lot of that – yet – but it is not going to be fun."
City and university officials hope by following the protocols put in place, Red Raiders can have as much of the college experience as possible while still protecting themselves and others from COVID-19.
"I truly believe we need to start school, and I truly believe we need to open up businesses," Cook said. "But we must respect the virus; we must respect this disease. You may do well, but some individuals will not do well, and some of them will be young.
"The university has gone to great extents to try to make this a safe environment for learning. We want students to extend the same attitude about wearing facial coverings and social distancing. I would love to see them stand up and say, 'I am doing this to protect others. I am doing this not only because I don't want to get the disease, but I also don't want you to get the disease.'"
For more information about Texas Tech's efforts to ensure the health and safety of those on campus, visit the Texas Tech Commitment website.