April 13, 2021

Asymptomatic Students Struggle to Get Tested on Campus (Update 1)

(Updates with comments from Chancellor Plowman and most recent COVID-19 data.)

Students Ask: When Should We Get Tested?

Some students at the University of Tennessee are confused about COVID-19 campus guidelines after being turned away by the Student Health Center because they were asymptomatic, despite close contact with COVID-positive people.

Katie Proctor, a senior nursing student at UT, said she was exposed to coronavirus, but had no symptoms. She said she had to argue with the staff at the Student Health Center to get an appointment.

“I’m angry at the University of Tennessee for inviting students back under the false pretense that they would keep us safe and provide the materials that we need to stop the spread of COVID19,” she said.

Proctor said the care she received was attentive once she was inside the clinic, but that the process to be accepted and tested was frustrating.

UT student Carmyn Gutierrez was also exposed but asymptomatic. “I explained that I didn’t have symptoms but just wanted to be safe,” she said. “[The center] said I still shouldn’t be getting tested if I’m showing no symptoms. It just really made no sense.”

For contact tracing to be effective, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends testing for anyone who was within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes. The CDC says “testing should be considered for all close contacts of confirmed or probable COVID-19 patients.”

Alexandra DeMarco, a UT student, tried to get tested at the Student Health Center but was declined. She instead visited an offsite clinic at the Jacob Building to receive care. “There was already a significant line…” DeMarco said. “I waited less than ten minutes, but there were already 20 to 30 people there waiting to be tested.”

Plowman Is ‘Confident’ UT Can Manage Cases, Despite Strained Resources

Today Chancellor Donde Plowman said she remains “confident” in the university’s ability to manage a rise in cases, with the caveat that “these increases cannot continue.” The sudden and steep rise will put a strain on the university’s resources, she said.

Plowman also emphasized the need for students to get tested at the university health center because it’s easier for the university to then follow up with contact tracing and isolation procedures. One the university’s biggest challenges thus far has been that many students are going off-campus to get tested, she said.

“Help us, please, get control of these numbers,” Plowman said in the public briefing.

As of Friday, the university has 369 positive cases, 1,649 people in quarantine and 126 new cases, rising 51% since Tuesday.

The university health care center did not respond to a request for comment as of publication; their website indicates that students may only visit the center with an appointment; drop-ins or walk-ins are not permitted.

To learn more about free testing, see information from the Knox County Health Department.