KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Less than 24 hours after the University of Tennessee system lifted its mask requirement in accordance with a new state law, the Knoxville campus announced it will reinstate the requirement.

The mask requirement will be reinstituted at most UT Knoxville buildings beginning Monday, Nov. 22, in order to comply with a federal executive order for government contractors. Because UT Knoxville is a federal contractor, the university is following a federal executive order that requires covered employees of federal contractors to be vaccinated and requires federal contractor buildings to follow CDC mask guidance or risk losing federal funding.

The statewide system ended the requirement Monday after Gov. Bill Lee signed a new law preventing state entities from having mask or vaccine mandates unless exempted from the law by the state comptroller when federal funding is at risk.

UT System President Randy Boyd applied for an exemption from the state law on behalf of the UT System and was notified of that the exemption had been granted on Nov. 15. East Tennessee State University, University of Memphis and Vanderbilt University have also been granted exemptions.

The university system holds more than 1,900 contracts with a collective value over $750 million that fall under the mandate.

There are exceptions to the mask requirement including residence halls, athletics facilities and recreational sports facilities.

The University of Tennessee System will enforce a mandate requiring employees who do work related to federal contracts to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Dec. 8 and is reviewing guidelines for how it applies to nonfederal employees who work in the same location.

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III has filed a lawsuit arguing that the federal vaccine mandate is unconstitutional and UT Knoxville Chancellor Donde Plowman said in a letter to students and staff that court rulings in that lawsuit or other legal proceedings could come by the end of this week.

Plowman said additional guidance, including information about the federal vaccine mandate and how to comply, will be shared on Monday.

I know these changing conditions are confusing, and we will continue to update you as we know more. Thank you for your understanding as we continue to navigate challenging times. I appreciate all the work you do to make our university a success every day.

UT Knoxville Chancellor Donde Plowman

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