Dear Dr. Black and executive committee members,
I am in receipt of your letter dated January 10, 2021 requesting that the university postpone the return of students until the rate of infection has fallen significantly in our community and state. I would like to share with you the measures that we are taking to protect the health and safety of our community.
As we prepare to carry out the university’s mission during the COVID-19 pandemic, our Emergency Operations team and campus leadership are working closely with the County and State Health Departments as we make decisions about campus activities. We also are in close contact with peer and aspirant campuses to share best practices as they plan for the return of students to campus. We constantly monitor crucial public health indicators and have worked continuously over the winter break to adjust our plans.
In addition to continuing to stress the importance of masks and social distancing as the most effective way of preventing spread of the virus, we will be requiring weekly pooled saliva testing for all students living in residence halls or Greek houses. The testing will also be made available to all commuter students – graduate and undergraduate. This represents a significant increase over what was available in the Fall. The Student Health Center will follow up on any positive pools with diagnostic PCR testing. Diagnostic PCR testing is also part of standard patient care for students. Free EverlyWell test kits are available to asymptomatic faculty, staff, and students through the Health Center.
As students return there will be residential restrictions in place until positivity and test participation rates indicate they can be relaxed. Those restrictions include grab-and-go only dining, limited access to recreation and common spaces, limits on in-person events, and no visitation in residence halls and Greek houses. For students who test positive and need to isolate, we have a full-service dorm ready. We also have quarantine spaces and improved quarantine procedures to provide services to students who are exposed but have not tested positive. A newly developed website at covidsupport.utk.edu will help students quickly find the services they need related to COVID-19, and we have staff available to support them through the isolation and quarantine process. And, the chancellor will continue to share information with weekly live-updates on our status of the virus on our campus.
Supervisors will continue to work with employees to determine how best to staff offices. Some employees will continue to telecommute. As you know, faculty have been given the option to choose their instructional modality. We are also working with the Knox County Health Department to make vaccine available to employees who fall in early vaccination categories. This includes our campus health care workers, students and faculty who are delivering health care in the course of their instruction, and Facilities and Housing staff working with students in isolation and quarantine. We will continue to work with the health department to make vaccine available in accordance with the state of Tennessee’s vaccination plan.
While the way in which we deliver on our education mission will continue to be constrained in the spring as we follow safe practices, we learned many things last fall that have informed even better procedures for the spring.
For many of our students, campus is the safest and healthiest place for them. They are eager to return to campus, and we look forward to welcoming them back with the strict safety measures and enhanced testing practices in place.
Thank you for sharing your concerns with me.
Donde Ashmos Plowman, PhD
The University of Tennessee, Knoxville
539 Andy Holt Tower
1331 Circle Park Drive
Knoxville, TN 37996