UTK Chancellor warns students of consequences if not participating in COVID-19 testing

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — During University of Tennessee-Knoxville Chancellor Donde Plowman’s weekly COVID-19 update, she learned not all students were cooperating with the university’s COVID-19 policies when it came to testing.

Dr. Spencer Gregg, Director of the Student Health Center, reported that several students failed to submit saliva samples for the pooled saliva testing.

The pooled saliva testing is one way university lab techs can determine the scope of virus on campus.

“We’re not going to have sufficient data until we have better participation. And it makes it hard to come up with any real conclusions if the data is suspect. So having sufficient data by greater participation helps us to identify trends that then help us to more clearly identify what mitigation efforts need to be taken on campus,” Gregg said.

Since Friday, students from Dogwood, Magnolia, North Carrick and South Carrick halls, as well as fraternity park, were asked to submit saliva samples.

According to Gregg, the following was the participation rate for each residency:

  • Dogwood Hall- 76%
  • Magnolia Hall- 51%
  • North Carrick Hall- 41%
  • South Carrick Hall- 63%
  • Fraternity Park- 59%

When talking about the lack of participation, Plowman reminded students there could be consequences if they don’t comply.

“As a reminder, if you live in a residence hall, fraternity or sorority house, you signed a contract. And part of that contract was agreeing to testing protocols. It is required. It is required,” Plowman said.

She continued to say, “If your hall was tested and you have not participated, please pay attention to the make up dates. Failure to participate in saliva testing or any necessary follow up testing, will generally result in disciplinary action for the student code of conduct.”

Several students at Dogwood and Magnolia residential halls seemed to know there would be some sort of repercussion if they didn’t provide the saliva samples.

Pamela Bates, a freshman living in Magnolia, said the whole testing process was a little stressful for her in several ways.

“I actually didn’t get the right labels at first and so I had like 30 minutes before I was supposed to turn in my thing, to figure out where my labels were. And it was stressful to like, we couldn’t brush our teeth beforehand, like we had to do it as soon as we got out of bed,” Bates said.

She was able to submit her sample, but the stress wasn’t over.

“A few weeks ago we got an email saying they were going to start requiring them to all of the dorms, and if we didn’t there would be repercussions. And so, actually a few days ago, I got a mistaken email saying that my test results were lost and that if I didn’t submit it by this today, Friday…that I would be like suspended or there would be some kind of repercussions for it,” Bates said.

Bates wasn’t the only to receive that email even though she submitted her saliva sample.

Lucian Bunch, a freshman living in Dogwood, said he was shocked to receive it as well.

“Me and my roommate both actually. We got emails saying we didn’t submit our saliva samples and that a retake day would be available, but obviously we did, and then we got a follow up email after that saying ‘sorry there was something wrong with the system,'” Bunch said.

According to university leaders, a second letter was sent out apologizing for the email error.

Bunch and Bates had slightly opposing views when it comes to the policy requiring students to provide samples or get tested.

“I don’t quite understand why you wouldn’t participate in it. It’s not like their breaking your arm, you know. It’s a rather simple thing to spit in a cup at, you know, 10 o’clock in the morning and turn it in at the front desk,” Bunch said.

“It’s your own right to choose not to, but at the same time I’d like to know if I’m around COVID,” Bates said.

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