NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Campus life could look very different in the fall for students at the University of Tennessee.

Precautions include: testing students on campus, increasing health services, isolating students who test positive for COVID-19 in special dorms, closing buildings for cleaning, hosting online and weekend classes, as well as eliminating classes of more than 30, limiting travel off-campus, including students going home, and canceling events where more than 10 people attend, are part of the recommendations from the University of Tennessee System’s COVID-19 Task Force fall report.

The report offers purposefully broad guidelines to be applicable to all major campuses in the UT System to advise on policies and procedures that would prioritize the safety and wellbeing of students, faculty, and staff. Each campus has created a local task force to look at specific needs for their campus community.

The report states any reopening plans should recognize precautions that will continue for at least 18-24 months until a vaccine or highly effective therapy is widely available.

Eliminating transmission of the virus on UT campuses is not a realistic option; our efforts should be focused on managing the spread of infection and mitigating the impact of COVID-19 on the quality of the educational experience and on the health of our students, faculty, staff and communities.

UT System COVID-19 Task Force System in the key concepts summary of its best practices for reopening report

University of Tennessee Knoxville Chancellor Donde Plowman is one of more than 80 who makes up the university’s COVID-19 task force. Each campus will determine what recommendations to implement based on a campus-by-campus basis.

“We are very interested in changing the schedule, a little bit, perhaps starting a couple of days early. Not having fall break, that’s very attractive, that’s one idea — haven’t decided to do it.”

Chancellor Plowman suggests one of the other options university leaders are looking at for the fall semester is staggered courses that would allow one-third of the class to be in-person, while the other two-thirds are watching online. This, she says, would allow social distancing to take place within a classroom.

“We’re very interested in the ideas around how we create a new culture and set a new normal. It’s a new normal. We’ve got to get through this,” said Plowman.

“Creating a culture of ‘We’re all in this together, let’s do this.'”

University of Knoxville Chancellor Donde Plowman


The task force recommends a comprehensive strategy to provide testing within one working day for all students, faculty and staff with symptoms of COVID-19 should be in place on all campuses.

Students found to be positive should be quarantined in an isolation dormitory or other living arrangement until they can safely return to class following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for return to work for health care workers.

Criteria for testing and retesting should be in accordance with guidelines from the Infectious Disease Society of America.

That criteria includes:

  1. All symptomatic individuals should be tested.
  2. Symptomatic individuals for whom there is a strong suspicion of COVID-19 should be retested if the initial test is negative.
  3. Asymptomatic individuals who have had close contact exposure to a COVID-19 positive individual should be tested. This may result in the testing of multiple students during cluster investigations if they share classes or living quarters.
  4. Campuses should consider surveillance measures as appropriate and available.

Campuses should be prepared to perform rapid contact tracing, isolation, and monitoring of individuals with close contact exposure to COVID-19 persons. Faculty, staff and students should self-isolate if experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 until test results and, when relevant, retesting results are available. Faculty and staff should remain off campus when isolated.

“The chancellors and I recommended to our advisory boards that we keep tuition at 0% increase this year. The advisory boards deliberated and agreed and recommended that back to me. I now recommend that to the board of trustees in June,” said UT President Randy Boyd.

Students should be discouraged from returning home if found to be positive as this might facilitate spread to back into households or other communities.

When a student tests positive for COVID-19

Campuses are recommended to report all positive COVID-19 tests to local public health officials and coordinate responses with those officials. Campuses should consider short-term (2-5 days) closures of buildings and other facilities where those who test positive have been present to allow time for contact tracing and cleaning and disinfection.

School officials should consider campus closures or other measures in the event of a larger outbreak on an individual campus, particularly if community transmission outside of the campus is widespread.

Potential triggers for wider closures include:

  • Rapid or exponential rise in cases on campus.
  • Capacity issues for managing positive cases of COVID-19 (e.g., housing shortages, strained ability to clean and disinfect buildings or spaces).
  • Serious outcomes from COVID-19 are experienced on campus.
  • Community or state health advisers or government officials increase the stringency of control measures in the face of rising cases.

Student health

The report also recommends resources for student health services and mental health services be increased. Student health services should develop treatment protocols for COVID-19 with the input of local public health and health care officials, including plans for transfer to a higher level of care as needed.

Vaccination against influenza should be considered as a condition of being on campus this year so that influenza outbreaks do not mask COVID-19 spread. Student health services should be prepared for mass vaccination of faculty, staff, students and contractors who come on campus.

Plans should be made to facilitate large-scale distribution of future COVID-19 vaccines when available.


The report recommends educational materials be on the risks of spreading the virus to others made available for students, parents, faculty and staff through educational packets available online and posted visibly throughout the campuses.

A general overview of COVID-19 including infection prevention and control measures like hand hygiene and social distancing should be provided to all faculty, staff and students at multiple times throughout the academic year.

Managing the campus environment

The report recommends transit options and facilities should be rethought to provide opportunities for social distancing and good personal hygiene. Campuses should consider developing alternate means of transportation that reduce passenger density. Dormitories, classrooms, cafeterias, libraries, and other places students gather should be reimagined in accordance with CDC guidelines for businesses and shared housing.

The flow of students on foot through the campus should be regulated to disperse people from walkways and create one-way paths by staggering class schedules, adding signage, and creating physical barriers to separate students during transit.

“At the end of the day the thing that’s going to make a difference is behavior,” said Boyd.

An isolation dormitory or other alternate living space should be designated or created to house infected students in isolation.

Reimagining classes

The report suggests campuses consider altering classes or coursework to allow for safer options for students and faculty such as a hybrid mode of learning that provides for online learning options when feasible or smaller classes moved to larger venues to allow for better social distancing.

Other possible adjustments to classes could include large classes, defined as those with 30 or more by the American College Health Association, be offered entirely online. However individual campuses may develop different definitions based on the characteristics of their classrooms.

Staggering class schedules could allow for lower density of students on campus walkways and building halls. The report says campuses could even consider weekend classes if feasible.

The report says schools should consider the alteration, deferral or elimination of class requirements for vulnerable students to take specific classes where safe instruction cannot be managed.

It goes on to recommend campuses track in-person attendance to facilitate contract tracing in the event of an infection while allowing students to retain the choice of attending class in-person or remotely.

Transitioning between on-campus and off-campus

The task force suggests students be encouraged to remain on campus for as much of the year as possible and move-in dates for resident halls be staggered to reduce density during move-ins.

Policies should be developed to manage student travel off campus including returning home. These policies may include notification of campus authorities for health tracking reasons, screening for infection, testing for infection, quarantine upon return or other measures.

International travel and travel to areas with a significant burden of COVID-19 in the community may be restricted or result in more stringent measures. Policies should be developed to create a safe environment and monitor visitation by parents, visiting professors, campus tours, and other visitors.

Campuses may also consider compressing semester by eliminating breaks. Altering start and end dates for other portions of the future academic calendar may be considered in the future based on the evolution of the pandemic.

Managing events

Events that are expected to draw large gatherings should develop a safety plan which includes mitigating the spread of COVID-19. This safety plan should be reviewed by an unbiased panel of experts for prior approval. The report suggests organizers give consideration to moving events online or canceling them.

In communities with local transmission, if more strict public health policies are in effect (i.e., no groups of 10 or more), the more stringent policy should be followed.

An athletics and sports medicine action plan should be developed to give specific guidance on athletics and protection of athletes following guidance from the American College Health Association.

Faculty and staff training workplace considerations

The safest work environment possible must be provided for faculty and staff in the course of their duties.

UT System Task Force Best Practices for Re-opening Report
  • All faculty and staff should complete training on COVID-19 and policies regarding return to work and return to school.
  • Masks or face coverings should be worn at all times when the possibility for contact with others exists.
  • Screening for signs of infection or contact with persons potentially ill with COVID-19 should be required daily, prior to entering the workplace.
  • Remote work should be encouraged for all faculty and staff when feasible.
  • At-risk individuals should explore alternatives to being on campus such as teaching or working remotely.

Read the full report on the University of Tennessee system here.

The UT System created a systemwide task force in April, led by Dr. Jon McCullers, senior executive associate dean of clinical affairs at the UT Health Science Center.

Task force members include:

  • Brian Gard – Director of Emergency Management (UT Knoxville)
  • Christine Benz Smith – UC Foundation Professor; Director, School of Nursing; Chief Health Affairs Officer (UT Chattanooga)
  • Holly Rowan – Safety and Emergency Management Coordinator (UT Martin)
  • Marcy J. Souza – Associate Professor, Director of Veterinary Public Health (UT College of Veterinary Medicine)
  • Mike Gregory – Director of Emergency Management Services and Special Events (UT System)