At Chancellor Donde Plowman’s bi-weekly live update on Thursday, Student Health Center Director Dr. Spencer Gregg filled in for Plowman.
The latest data shows 167 positive cases of COVID-19 in the campus community; twenty-five are employees, and 142 are students, according to Gregg.
“We continue to see an increase in the number of people on campus and in the greater Knoxville community getting the vaccine, and that too is excellent news,” Gregg said. “In fact, just yesterday at the Student Health Center, we administered … 100 additional vaccine doses.”
The university has not mandated the vaccine for students, and it remains unclear how much of the student body is vaccinated.
Students may be less likely to report symptoms in the face of no mandatory testing and the possibility of having to pay for their own quarantine. Unlike the 2020-2021 school year, the university decided to leave quarantine and isolation responsibilities to the students.
“I started having symptoms and I called the student health center because I couldn’t find any rapid tests. They asked me about my symptoms and told me to self-isolate as much as possible in my dorm until the test came back,” said freshman Bailey Timmer. “They called me a few times in the next couple days to check in, and as soon as I told them I couldn’t taste, they told me to isolate off campus.”
Timmer also described the process of having to find somewhere to go, which was tough for an out-of-state freshman who is not familiar with the area.
“The Student Health Center asked me if I had anywhere to go, and I said, ‘no,’ and that my family was 10 hours away. They said that all they could do was recommend hotels in the area, but that I had to get off campus as soon as possible.”
The situation left Timmer frustrated.
“I called my parents and they offered to come get me or stay with me, but I didn’t want to get them sick, so I ended up staying at and paying for a hotel by myself for a week,” Timmer said. “It was really scary being sick all by myself and in a strange place. I think if the school is kicking people off campus, they should have at least provided a place to go.”
The University of Tennessee website states, “The university does not provide housing, meals, or transportation for students who need to isolate or quarantine. The campus support team will provide guidance, but students need to develop their own isolation or quarantine plan.”
A UT sophomore who declined to be identified made the long drive home rather than paying for a hotel.
“I tested positive for COVID-19 and had to drive eight hours home, putting my family at risk. It would have been a much easier process for me if there was housing provided by the university.”
This year’s guidelines could be making UT’s campus less safe if people are choosing to forgo testing because of the hassle and expense of having to find lodging for 10-14 days.
Gregg said the number of cases on campus is declining, but emphasized that students and faculty must remain diligent. However, with local governments not having mandates in place, Knox County is continuing to see a concerning spread, especially among children and young adults.
As of Thursday, there were 501 new cases reported and 12 reported COVID-19 deaths in Knox County, and hospitals remain stretched for resources, according to hospital leaders.
“According to local media, only six ICU beds were available across all of East Tennessee,” Gregg said.
This means that, along with people who have serious COVID-19 cases, people with other serious medical conditions are having trouble finding the care that they need.
“Vaccinating our community is our best path forward. Let me say that again. Vaccinating our community is our best path forward. I urge you if you haven’t already done so, get vaccinated,” Gregg said. “The vaccine is safe, it’s effective, it’s free.”