UT Chancellor Plowman reflects on year of COVID-19 during final update of spring semester

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The spring semester is less than a week away from closing at the University of Tennessee Knoxville and Chancellor Donde Plowman took the time Friday to reflect on the year built around COVID-19 protocols and keeping students safe on campus.

During her final COVID-19 campus update, Plowman along with Student Health Center Director Dr. Spencer Gregg and Provost John Zomchick spoke to the daunting task of having classes and performing weekly COVID-19 testing.

Every Friday since August we’ve come together right here to make sense of what’s going on around us,” Plowman said.

“When we came back to campus in August no one knew what would happen really. There were so many unknowns. That’s why we wanted to hold these live updates. We weren’t sure what decisions would need to be made, but we wanted to be as transparent as possible.”

Plowman specifically pointed out the colorations between campus and the city.

“What we do on this campus impacts people in our community and what happens in our community impacts us,” she said. “As we move forward I hope we don’t lose that sense of connection.

“In my entire career in higher ed … I don’t remember any issue or challenge that the entire community came together on. I think it lights the way for what we can do as a campus going forward.”

Zomchick praised the student body’s persistence, especially first-generation college students, saying that they “embodied the Volunteer spirit.”

“It’s been an honor to work with (the students) and with you this year,” he said.

Plowman also noted that with fewer students being on campus for the May term and summer semester, data on the university’s COVID-19 dashboard will change.

Data updates will shift beginning May 10 to once a week. Some data will also be removed from the dashboard including the running list of enhanced cleanings, student health center testing numbers, and the saliva bar chart, since saliva testing has ended.

The definition for a COVID-19 cluster on campus is also changing. Going forward a cluster will be at least five connected positive cases as a result of one event or in one concentrated location. Close contacts will not be considered in defining clusters.

Vaccination clinics for students, staff and the public will continue through the summer. You can signup online. UT has provided 12,000 doses of vaccine so far. Dr. Gregg said they hope to return soon to being able to give the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after concerns from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over blood clots arose.

Gregg said seven blood clot cases were found out of 7.3 million doses given.

“Once we receive the green light from the CDC, we will continue to offer the J&J vaccine,” he said, noting the university is also offering the two-dose Moderna vaccine.

As the semester winds down, there are currently 30 active cases of the virus on campus. Twenty-seven are students and three are employees. There are 78 people in self-isolation or quarantine. Of those 78, 29 are students living on campus, 35 are students living off campus and 14 are employees.

Final day for classes is Wednesday with final exams starting Friday. Graduation will be held in Neyland Stadium for the first time in 100 years to allow for social distancing.

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