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As case counts, isolations creep up, UT chancellor warns about need to take precautions ahead of holiday break

The last day of fall classes is Nov. 24.

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — After enjoying relatively low virus case counts for more than a month, the rate has begun to rise in recent days among University of Tennessee students and staff.

UT Chancellor Donde Plowman said Friday in her weekly online update that students must continue to take precautions to ensure the campus doesn't see large volumes of COVID-19 cases seen at the start of fall classes in August.

"Practice smart behavior and precautions and we'll get through this," Plowman said.


As of Thursday night there were 97 active cases, consisting of 90 among students and 7 employees. The numbers have been edging up in recent days.

All around UT in the Knoxville area, positive cases, hospitalizations and deaths have risen sharply this month.

There currently are 460 people in the UT community, including 395 students, in isolation or self-quarantine. Those numbers also have been rising.

"That’s not a trend we want to see continue," said Dr. Spencer Gregg, director of the UT Student Health Center on campus.

UT continues to gather spit samples from students living in various residential halls and Greek housing. Those samples then help pinpoint students who may be carrying COVID-19.

Last week, the university collected 946 samples from residents in Magnolia and Dogwood halls as well as Sorority Village and some make-up submissions, Plowman said. The samples were divided into 299 pools.

Out of all that, further testing revealed six individual positive tests.

Plowman said compliance rates to submit spit samples remain good. Early on during saliva sampling, not enough students were submitting to the process.

Last week's pool sampling saw a compliance rate of about 76 percent. A small cluster of positive cases also was identified tied to an Oct. 31 Halloween gathering off campus.

Plowman and Gregg urged students to all get flu shots before classes end Nov. 24 and everyone goes home until January. They also urged students to get tested for COVID-19 a few days before they head home. Both tests are free and available at the Health Center.

Students need to start preparing now for the end of the semester, Gregg said.

Students will take final exams at home this fall by computer.

Plowman and Gregg also warned the community to be cautious during Thanksgiving celebrations. Health experts are advising the public at large to only gather in small numbers and to enjoy the day if possible in a socially distanced manner.  Outdoor events are safer than indoor events.

"It's been hard. I know it has," Plowman said, referencing adjustments the campus has had to make this fall semester. "I'm so proud of all of our students."

Guidelines imposed this fall will continue into the spring semester, which starts Jan. 20.