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Cooperate with Contact Tracing or Risk Expulsion, Plowman Warns UTK Students

Screen Capture: Chancellor's COVID-19 Update August 18

Chancellor Donde Plowman told students those who do not cooperate with contact tracing efforts could be expelled, following a cluster of five cases stemming from an off-campus party in Fort Sanders.

"Not all students are cooperating with contact tracing efforts and some are refusing to fill out the self-isolation forms," Plowman said.  

For these students, Plowman delivered a clear message ahead of the first day of classes this week.

"There will not be a punishment for telling a contact tracer that you were somewhere, even if there was underage drinking," Plowman said. "But there will be the harshest punishment ... for someone who willfully does not cooperate with contact tracing or filling out the self [screening] form." 

Unlike the Knox County Health Department, which has not given information about clusters of cases since the start of the pandemic, Plowman committed to reporting clusters as they arise. The campus is defining a cluster as “5 connected positive cases or 20 connected close contacts of a positive case," according to medical advisor Dr. Spencer Gregg.

Additionally, daily case counts will be uploaded to the university's COVID information page. The numbers will be updated each morning with the cases from the previous day.

As of Monday evening, there is one cluster reported and 75 active cases on campus; 66 of these are students. The number of active cases has hovered around 25 since the beginning of August, this new increase came as more than 6,500 students moved into residential campus housing in recent days.  

Hundreds of universities have opted for entirely online instruction or delayed start dates, and the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill moved all classes online after the first week of instruction, when more than 130 students tested positive for the virus.

Chancellor Plowman has not given a set number that would force ending in-person classes but has instead emphasized flexibility during the reopening process.

Credit UTK data monitoring
As of Monday evening, 66 students and 9 employees have active cases of COVID. Five cases are connected to an off-campus party last Tuesday.

The university has 240 beds reserved for students to self-isolate, 24 of these are currently in use. The plan if these beds are full is somewhat vague; in a COVID update video Tuesday, Plowman said students would be asked to self-isolate somewhere else, mentioning parental visits and hotels.

According to Plowman, facilities services employees clean and disinfect public spaces on campus each evening. Places where cases have been reported will be specially cleaned and listed on the university's COVID information page

As cases have started to rise with the influx of new students, campus medical advisor Spencer Gregg said a spike is preventable if students follow distancing guidelines. 

“Ongoing increases are not necessarily inevitable," Gregg said. “Just basic measures and these increases can be curbed.”

Students will begin in-person classes Wednesday.