UT chancellor asks students to ‘make some sacrifices’ and follow COVID-19 guidelines

Donde Plowman, the University of Tennessee at Knoxville chancellor, is asking students to follow social distancing and mask guidelines in order to keep the university open.

While an in-person semester requires sacrifices from students, Plowman said she believes students will be the ones who make a difference. She specifically mentioned that students who host parties could face consequences. 

“I know it’s not fair,” Plowman said in a live streamed update on Friday. “I wish I could change it for you overnight. The only way to change this is for all of us to make some sacrifices and work together. And it is a sacrifice and I recognize that.”

As of Friday, there are 110 active COVID-19 cases at UT, 103 of which are students and 7 are employees. The number of people in self-isolation has also increased, to 408. Most people in isolation are students who live off campus. 

‘All of us depend on you doing your part’

Plowman said she’s been pleased to see compliance across campus so far, but will hold students who do not comply accountable.

“COVID doesn’t take … very many people not following the safety measures for it to spread and then screw it up for everybody else,” Plowman said. 

Dr. Spencer Gregg, director of the Student Health Center, said they are testing 15-20 students per day, with about a 24-hour turnaround for test results. The health center has the capacity to test up to 2,000 students per day, he said. 

While UT employees have started to flatten the curve when it comes to positive COVID-19 tests, student cases are continuing to rise. The number of students far outnumbers the number of employees, Gregg said. Social distancing and masks can stop that, he said. 

“Whether you’re on campus or off campus, all of us depend on you doing your part to keep the rest of us safe,” Gregg said. “If one person tests positive, that’s potentially three or four more people or more who have to go into quarantine.”

Contact tracing at the university

Kathleen Brown, associate professor of practice in public health, spoke about the importance of working with contact tracers. The university has 20 contact tracers employed. 

Information shared with contact tracers is confidential and used to determine how the virus may have spread, Brown said. 

“It is the only way we can contain the transmission of this infection,” Brown said. 

Friday was Plowman’s first update since classes started on campus for the first time since March, when classes were moved online for the spring semester.

On Tuesday, the university announced it had tracked a cluster of COVID-19 cases to an off-campus party thrown by students. Plowman told students they would face punishment for throwing parties that did not follow social distancing guidelines and if they did not cooperate with contact tracers. 

“We will hold you responsible, and it’s possible that you could be expelled from school and I will not hesitate to do that if our students are irresponsible,” Plowman said on Tuesday. 

In a message to students on Thursday, Plowman again asked students to be cautious when gathering in groups. 

“This is not a new expectation, as our Student Code of Conduct specifically covers on- and off-campus conduct that poses a health and safety risk,” Plowman wrote. “But please be aware that in a pandemic the university intends to focus its enforcement efforts on those who host or organize social gatherings, formally or informally, that endanger the health, safety, or welfare of others.”



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