Coronavirus: Second cluster identified on UT campus, Chancellor Plowman stresses social distancing guidelines


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A second COVID-19 cluster has been identified at a house in Sorority Village at the University of Tennessee.

During her Friday update UT Chancellor Donde Plowman said Zeta Tau Alpha’s house had two residents test positive for the novel coronavirus. Zeta Tau Alpha is not one of the six Greek organizations put under interim suspension after reports that held gatherings without following UT’s COVID-19 guidelines.

University contact tracers determined everyone living in the house is a close contact since the residents share a kitchen, bathrooms and living space. The occupants are now in isolation or quarantine depending on whether they are positive for COVID-19 or not.

Plowman was joined by Student Health Center Director Dr. Spencer Duncan Gregg, Counsel Center Director Dr. Paul McAnear and Provost John Zomchick.

“Whenever we are looking at close contacts, essentially anyone who shares a living space with someone else … by definition are going to be considered close contacts,” Gregg said.

“The key thing is to get in the habit of avoiding being within six feet of other people. If they happen to be positive, whether they are symptomatic or not, you are going to be identified as a close contact and you will have to go into quarantine for 14 days.”

On Monday, University of Tennessee Knoxville Chancellor Donde Plowman says the university had “initiated disciplinary proceedings against four students for violating the Student Code of Conduct by endangering the health, safety and welfare of others.”

Overall, the numbers of positive and isolated or quarantine students and employees at UT continues to climb. Plowman said there are 150 active positive cases, 144 students and six employees, of COVID-19, and 734 people, 664 students and 70 employees, are in quarantine or self isolation. The majority of student cases, 433, are off-campus residents.

Masks, gatherings guidance

Gregg and Plowman both stressed the six feet of distance and mask usage guidelines put out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“If you are indoors on campus at the University of Tennessee you need to be wearing a mask,” Gregg said. “When you are outdoors on campus we would encourage you to wear but it’s not mandatory as long as you can maintain that six foot of physical distance from other people.

“The problem is like if you are walking down (Pedestrian) Walkway, you never know when someone is going to come running up beside you or passing you, might stop you and involve you with conversation.”

Plowman offered an alternative to the close quarters parties that have gone on off campus leading to increased numbers of positive, quarantine and isolation cases.

“We are social animals, we need to be together, but find a way to be together, sit in your back yard, 10 people and just stay six feet away from each other,” she said.

“We’re not saying don’t be social, don’t be together. We’re saying don’t cram 40 people into a tiny apartment where everybody is in each other’s faces and then everyone is a close contact.”

Close contact testing

The UT Student Health Center will continue to test close contacts and asymptomatic cases despite new guidance earlier this week from the CDC since many students are living in close quarters.

“It is important for us to be able to quickly identify people that are positive and potentially asymptomatic,” Gregg said.

Gregg also said students should get tested at the Student Health Center. The center tested 70 students Thursday and the bulk of the results were returned before noon Friday, according to Gregg.

“If you’re getting tested, we’re going to know,” he said. “Our contact tracers are an extension of the Knox County Health Department here on our campus. If you choose to go UT Hospital emergency room or to a walk-in clinic those health care facilities are required to report the test that they are performing and particularly those that come back positive.”

Any registered student has access to a test at the center.

Plowman also announced the university will begin surveillance testing of the wastewater in residence halls to identify the virus sooner. The testing will being in early September and will cause isolation and quarantine case numbers to rise.

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