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Letter to Chancellor Plowman regarding Covid Risk

July 26, 2021
Dear Chancellor Plowman:

We are writing on behalf of the UTK chapter of the American Association of University Professors and the United Campus Workers – CWA 3865 to express our concerns about the growing risk of COVID-19 infections in Knox County, and particularly the rise of the Delta variant, in relation to the University’s plan to return to full-capacity classrooms and in-class teaching this fall, other than for OED-approved exceptions. Your “Return to Campus” [] page indicates that you will soon be making decisions about “masking requirements and other health and safety measures.” Our concerns are as follows: 1. For teaching faculty and staff, including dorm custodians and building services workers (among the most exposed), who are at risk of carrying this virus home to children under 12 or to other vulnerable family members, via breakthrough infections. 2. For our students, who belong overwhelmingly to an age group that is much less likely to be vaccinated. While the risk of death may be small for this population, the long-term effects of COVID-19 are little understood. 3. For the continued spread of this deadly virus in our Knox County community, especially among the most vulnerable populations. Only 39.47% of Knox County residents are fully vaccinated. Tennessee recently led the country in new COVID cases, and saw a 78% increase in hospitalizations over the last two weeks []. The Director of the CDC has declared the Delta variant one of the most infectious respiratory diseases known to scientists. We understand that under current interpretation of Tennessee law, UT may not require vaccinations. For this reason and those given above, we as a community will not, unfortunately, be able to return to business as usual this fall. We encourage you to allow faculty to require masks in the classroom and to change their classes to online at will, and to grant staff the ability to work remotely and enforce masking in their workspaces. We urge you to provide dorm custodians and building services workers with back-hazard pay, adequate PPE, and paid rotating schedules. The past year has shown that such measures are fully possible while still ensuring the smooth operation of the university. We realize that this scenario is not what we had anticipated following the development of the extraordinarily effective vaccinations now widely available; but any other course of action would bea denial of the reality of our situation. Sincerely,

Mary McAlpin, President AAUP

Todd Freeberg, Vice President

Laura Howes, Treasurer

Donna Braquet, Communications Officer

Paul Gellert and Jon Shefner, At-large Members

Anne Langendorfer, President, UCW