Preparing for the COVID-19 vaccines

Important Stuff Joe Knows - What's going on at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler

COVID-19 has become an unfortunate part of our daily lives. We’re close to losing more people a day to this virus than we did in the terrorist attacks of 9/11. But there’s hope. Yesterday, the first vaccine doses were shipped to healthcare facilities around the country including more than 100 in Texas. This week, frontline healthcare workers will begin receiving vaccinations. But, even before you receive the vaccine, there’s something important you can do to increase its impact. Help us communicate the safety and effectiveness of the two vaccines. Tens of thousands of people around the country have already received either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines in separate clinical trials. Based on the data from those trials, the effectiveness of either vaccine approaches 95% regardless of the age, race or gender of the patient. There have also been remarkably few side effects and none of them serious. Here are two links to information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that can help you answer questions your friends and family members may have about the vaccines: Quick Answers (2 pages) and Answering Your Questions (5 pages). Thank you for all you do for the people of East Texas. You are making a difference!

Please also take a moment to read this memo to all UT Health East Texas caregivers about how the vaccine will be distributed to our frontline healthcare workers beginning tomorrow.

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COVID-19 updates

Current information and safety protocols 

Recently, there has been a significant surge of COVID-19 cases in East Texas in general and, specifically, among healthcare providers. It appears that most caregivers infected with COVID-19 were exposed in the community or at work in common areas such as break rooms, dining areas, etc. We also are beginning to see cases of influenza in our region. The following safety protocols and reminders will help reduce the spread of both COVID-19 and influenza.

    • Airborne viruses spread easily. Please remain vigilant both at and away from work.
    • Exposing yourself to these viruses while in public not only puts your health at risk, but it’s also a threat to your loved ones and coworkers.
    • It’s safest to assume everyone you encounter – in the community and at work – is an asymptomatic carrier of COVID-19, the flu or both.
    • When you are at work, it is imperative to follow masking and social distancing policies, especially in shared spaces such as break rooms.
    • If symptoms appear stay home, inform your supervisor and wait to hear from Occupational Health.
    • Do not come to work if you are not feeling well. We cannot afford to risk spreading illness of any kind in our workplace.
    • Sick employees should communicate with their supervisor and Human Resources regarding our sick leave policy.

COVID-related employee health issues

We are still in an active pandemic, and now more than ever, proper use of personal protective equipment is imperative. This means that masks are to be worn at all times when interacting with patients or other employees. Additionally, eye protection should be worn with all patient encounters that are within six feet. Breakrooms and the cafeteria are no exception. This is a strong reminder that social distancing of more than six feet must be maintained when unmasked and eating in these settings. Please consider alternatives such as eating in a closed office work space or eating on your own outside.

    • Employees returning to work after time off for travel, illness or known/suspected exposure to COVID-19 must complete the Return-to-Work (RTW) Screening Questionnaire and receive approval from the Occupational Health Department before coming back on campus.
    • Employees who have been directed to return to campus after exclusively working remotely are also required to complete the questionnaire and receive approval from the Occupational Health department before coming back on campus.
    • Your Return-to-Work Screening Questionnaire must be completed no later than 3 p.m. the day before your intended return to work. If return to work is on Sunday or Monday, it must be completed by no later than 3pm the Friday before. Occupational Health will make determinations on Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. If you develop symptoms over the weekend, please stay home and contact Occupational Health on Monday.
    • Occupational Health must be notified immediately if an employee has been tested for COVID-19 and once results have been received, so that Occupational Health can give the employee guidance about safely returning to work. You must stay home from work if you are sick and/or have been tested and awaiting results. Filling out the RTW survey is the preferred method of contact with Occupational Health about these issues. Should you need to clarify anything further, please email Occ Health at
    • Supervisors may not authorize employees who have taken time off or those who have been working remotely to return to campus without approval from Occupational Health. We are closely tracking information related to COVID-19 and need to be promptly made aware of any concerns.

Travel and COVID-19

Please remember that – despite the phased reopening by the State of Texas – we are still in a critical phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. Physical distancing continues to be recommended to decrease spread of this illness. Following these safe practices from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is strongly advised.

    • Business travel on behalf of UTHSCT continues to be suspended except under extraordinary circumstances.
    • Additionally, personal travel outside our region (defined as more than 125-150 miles) continues to be discouraged. Travel by common carrier (public airlines, buses, trains, etc.) is especially problematic. If you must travel for personal reasons, use of a personal vehicle is preferred due to the inability to practice social distancing on common carriers.
    • Occupational Health cannot make return-to-work decisions before you travel. If you choose to travel, you may be subject to quarantine upon your return.

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Blood drive on campus – TOMORROW, December 16

Carter BloodCare will be on campus Wednesday, December 16, from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. for a mobile blood drive in parking lot A-3 near the main entrance and fountain.

Performance reviews due this – Friday, December 18

Performance reviews for Fiscal Year 2020 were assigned electronically in Performance Manager to supervisors on Friday, September 4. Please log in to the Performance Manager application under myLinks on to complete the individual performance appraisal for your direct reports no later than this Friday, December 18. To help you navigate the process, a Faculty and Professional Development series dedicated to appraisal best practices and system functionality has been posted in NetLearning for managers to access. The guide to self-enroll in this training opportunity can be found here: Additional supplemental training resources are posted under Performance Management on the HR SharePoint site including a step by step guide for “Completing an Appraisal” in Performance Manager. If you have additional questions, please contact: Cara Wreyford, Office of Human Resources, 903-877-7984.

Holiday Spirit Activities

    • Monday, December 21, all staff are invited to wear red.
    • Tuesday, December 22, all staff are invited to wear green.
    • Wednesday, December 23, all staff are invited to wear an ugly sweater or a holiday-themed t-shirt.
    • Every Friday in December staff may wear a holiday-themed shirt, with managerial approval.

The HOPE Fund – Helping Cancer Patients

The holidays are a beautiful time of giving, not only to our loved ones, but also to those in need. Here on our campus, many of our oncology patients are not only fighting cancer, but are also struggling to make ends meet during treatment. Can you imagine not having enough money for gas to drive to a life-saving appointment? Fortunately, the cancer patient’s HOPE Fund is available to help. This donation-driven fund assists patients in need with gas cards so they can drive back and forth to their chemotherapy and radiation treatments, and supports patients in acquiring nutritional supplements when they are unable to eat solid food. During this holiday season, we invite you make a contribution to the HOPE Fund. Your support will make a wonderful difference in the life of a cancer patient. To donate, or for more information, please call Donna Smith at 903-877-7108, or email

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American Red Cross certifications transition

UT Health East Texas has transitioned Basic Life Support, Advanced Life Support and Pediatric Advanced Life Support (BLS/ALS/PALS) certifications from the American Heart Association (AHA) to the American Red Cross. Caregivers will be assigned the online portion in the UT Health East Texas Division Training Portal if their AHA card is expiring or if they need to be enrolled in a new course. Following completion of the online course, caregivers will need to register for an available skills check-off session. Complete instructions will be emailed to employees and their managers at the time of assignment including login information and registration steps. Click the links for a program overview and frequently asked questions about the program. With this new change, a separate registration form will not need to be submitted to the Medical Education department. Please contact Human Resources with any questions.

Virtual appointments with UT retirement vendors

UT retirement vendors are not currently allowed to come on campus for face-to-face meetings with employees. But they are available for virtual appointments. Check availability and schedule appointments using the links for each vendor company below.

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Submit News and Events

Announcements about news and events for the weekly newsletter must be submitted by 5:00 p.m. on the Friday before the item is to appear in the following Tuesday’s newsletter. Submit announcements hereEarly submissions are always welcome!

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Important Stuff Joe Knows is a weekly newsletter published by Joseph Woelkers, EVP & COO of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler, Emails to this address will not receive a personal response.