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'We have a responsibility to the community' | University of Tennessee administration is 'begging' students to abide by COVID-19 rules

Chancellor Donde Plowman said students need to be "exceptionally careful" this fall.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — University of Tennessee Knoxville Chancellor Donde Plowman said they've planned for everything they could think of.

Masks will be required for in-person learning. About half of the courses offered will have some type of face-to-face component, but the other half will be completely virtual.

The university is requiring daily health screenings and giving students thermometers. There will be free COVID-19 testing at the student health center and people to aid with contact tracing. 

Plowman said the university has reserved dorm, hotel and apartment spaces to isolate any students who test positive for COVID-19.

"I'm feeling very confident about the quality of the educational experience we're going to be delivering," she said. 

Off campus behaviors are more difficult to control.

"We don't want students gathering in large gatherings," Plowman said. "We know the CDC has said don't do that. That's unsafe."

On Wednesday even, Dr. Patrick O'Brien raised a similar concern before the Knox County Health Board.

"I'm getting more concerned about what's coming up next month with college students being here," he said as he floated the idea of a 25-person gathering limit.

In Early May, parties in the Fort Sanders neighborhood drew criticism from the Knox County Health Department, Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon and other community members for disregarding social distancing guidelines and mask recommendations.

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"If I had my way, we would just chain the students to their rooms and they can never go out. Now that's ridiculous," Chancellor Plowman said. "But we need our students for this fall, right now, at this moment, to be exceptionally careful."

She said that's a message they will be "hammering" into their 29,000 students as some of them return to Knoxville.

"We have a responsibility to keep this community safe as well," Plowman said. "We are just in begging our students — and I think they will — to stay away from those situations, but it's on each of us. It's on each student to make good decisions."