UT Chancellor Plowman: Masks, COVID-19 testing participation are required on campus

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — University of Tennessee Chancellor Donde Plowman, Provost John Zomchick and Student Health Center Director Dr. Spencer Gregg were adamant Friday about mask wearing and participation in the COVID-19 saliva testing program for on-campus students.

During the chancellor’s weekly virus update, Plowman said campus faculty and staff have reported a number of instances where students were not wearing their masks to class or removing them after a time while in class.

“Let me be clear: Masks are required,” Plowman said. “And there can be consequences for not wearing them.”

Zomchick also said Hodges Library staff is also reporting similar issues with study groups and some students have been defiant in not wearing a mask while in the library. He said the staff has been authorized to ask students who do not follow the mask requirement to leave the library.

“I know we are all suffering with various forms of fatigue,” Zomchick said. “Zoom fatigue. Distancing fatigue. Mask fatigue. But it’s so important for everyone to continue to comply with our safety protocols so that we can keep our campus community safe and, importantly, our campus open.”

Second cluster found, sorority house cluster explained

The second cluster of the spring semester was identified Wednesday, Jan. 27, from an off-campus party in the 1300 block of Knotty Pine Way.

The university defines a COVID-19 cluster as at least five positive cases and/or 20 close contacts as a result of one event or one concentrated location.

The first cluster was identified Sunday, Jan. 24, at the Sigma Kappa sorority house. Plowman said there was one positive case at the house.

“No one was doing anything wrong, but because of the way the house is laid out, more like a private home with a communal living space, the Knox County Health Department considers everyone living in the house as a close contact,” she said.

The university identifies clusters to let students and staff know that if they have been in contact with a cluster, they can get tested and self isolate to avoid spreading COVID-19 any further, Plowman said.

“It does not mean students are doing something wrong. We’re required to list those.”

Testing participation at 66%

Saliva testing among on-campus students is at 66% with a positivity rate of less than 1%, according to Gregg. While the positivity rate is good news, Gregg and Plowman both reiterated that saliva testing is mandatory for campus residents and encouraged for commuter students.

“Those numbers need to be up closer to 100 percent,” Plowman said. “Your housing contract requires you to participate.”

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