University of Tennessee at Knoxville Chancellor Donde Plowman is pleading with students to be extra cautious over Labor Day weekend, and to limit gatherings.
After COVID-19 cases have more than tripled in the last two weeks, Plowman said the case load is starting to overwhelm the university’s resources. She said an increase was expected when students returned to campus, but cases are surging higher than expected.
“These increases cannot continue, and it’s going to take all of us to make sure we bend that curve,” Plowman said in an update on Friday.
On Friday, the university reported 369 active COVID-19 cases and 1,647 people in isolation or quarantine.
Plowman asked student to limit their gatherings to small groups of people and continue social distancing and wearing masks.
More: University of Tennessee chancellor Donde Plowman gives campus update on COVID-19
‘A semester in motion’
Dr. Spencer Gregg, director of the student health center, said the recent increases come from gatherings that took place two weeks ago, at the start of the fall semester. Things like parties, sorority bid day and large gatherings have contributed to the increases that are now being reported, he said.
As the number of people in isolation has steadily increased, the university is working to secure an additional hotel that can be used as isolation space. Administrators are directing more resources toward providing transportation and meal delivery for students who are in isolation and quarantine, Plowman said.
She urged students to be understanding because it’s possible they could be moved from their current dorm room to create additional on-campus isolation spaces. Plowman asked students to remain flexible and acknowledged potential frustrations.
“This may feel a bit like a semester in motion,” Plowman said. “It’s not easy, but it’s how we’re going to get through it.”
Instead of going off campus to be tested, Gregg and Plowman encouraged students to use testing available at the Student Health Center, and then fill out the self-isolation form if they are a close contact of someone who has tested positive.
Gregg said with the increase in cases and number of students being tested, some parts of the testing process have slowed down. Gregg asked for patience, but also said coming directly to the Student Health Center will help smooth things out.
Limit gatherings this weekend
If students are tested off-campus, those results will still be reported to the university, but it may be several days later. By filling out the self-isolation form, “that’s how we get you in the system,” Plowman said.
“We can’t provide you with the instructions or the help you need if you do not fill out the form,” Plowman said.
While UT will have classes on Labor Day, which will ensure that in-person classes will end before Thanksgiving, Plowman asked students to be aware of their behavior. Socialize in small groups, wear a mask and do not gather in crowded spaces, she said.
“Right now, this weekend, I’m asking you to change your behavior if it needs changing,” Plowman said.