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UT sorority members face isolation or quarantine; campus wastewater testing to start next month

UTK Chancellor Donde Plowman said two women at Zeta Tau Alpha tested positive for the virus. It's assumed everyone was at least exposed.

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Members of a sorority at the University of Tennessee face certain isolation or quarantine after two women in the house tested positive for the test, UT Knoxville Chancellor Donde Plowman said Friday.

Also, Plowman said, UTK will begin testing wastewater coming from campus living units in early September.

Authorities this week identified two positive cases among women living at Zeta Tau Alpha in Sorority Village. That constitutes a "cluster."

Plowman said in a briefing that everyone in the house is now being tested and faces either isolation or quarantine.

Credit: UTK
Dr. Spencer Gregg

Sick people must go into isolation. People who have had a close contact with an infected person face quarantine.

Because all the women at Zeta Tau Alpha live together and share facilities such as a kitchen and bathrooms, they're all considered to have had close contact with the infected patients, said Dr. Spencer Gregg, director of the Student Health Center.

"There's no way to get around that," Gregg said.

In sororities and fraternities it's especially hard to avoid large cases of exposure if even one person gets sick, Gregg said.

This is the second virus "cluster" identified in the UT community. Another is related to a party that was held at a Laurel Avenue address in Fort Sanders.

In early September, UT will start "surveillance testing" that will look for evidence of COVID-19 in wastewater coming from University of Tennessee dorms and Greek housing, Plowman said.

The testing will likely turn up the presence of the highly contagious virus in dorms where students don't even think they're sick, she said.

Wastewater flushed through all dorms and Greek housing will undergo the testing, Plowman said. It's been planned for months.

It'll almost certainly mean UT's virus case count will go up, Plowman said.

Nationwide, governments are doing similar testing to try to more quickly identify the coronavirus so that carriers can be tracked and identified. 

"We'll know what dorm needs further testing and we'll be able to figure that out," Plowman said.

Thousands of undergrads live either in UT dorms or in a fraternity or sorority.

Some students already have tested positive; classes only started Aug. 19.

UTK's latest figures -- current through Aug. 27 -- show there are 150 active campus cases, 144 students and six staff members.

There are 734 people in quarantine or self isolation, including 664 students in isolation. Most students in isolation are off campus, UTK figures show.

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