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UT suspends out-of-state travel amid COVID-19 concerns, preparing for possibility of moving classes online

In a letter from UT Chancellor Donde Plowman, the university said it is taking further precautions in response to the spread of the coronavirus internationally.

The University of Tennessee is still holding classes and tours as it prepares a  few contingencies to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.  

UT leaders and campus health officials discussed what they were doing to keep students, faculty and staff safe amid the outbreak after multiple cases were confirmed in Tennessee.

No cases have been confirmed on UT's campus or Knox County as of March 10. However, the university said it is preparing for the possibility — discussing scenarios to limit its spread if someone were to test positive locally.

Depending on the spread of the virus, one option being discussed is to move all classes online after Spring Break until cases of the virus taper off. The university said no decisions have been made yet, calling the situation a constantly evolving scenario.

As students and faculty head to spring break, officials said they should bring everything they need with them should a situation were to arrive during the break where they'd need to close campus and move to online-only classes. They also encouraged students to familiarize themselves with distance-learning technologies.

The university also said it is now suspending official university-related out-of-state travel for most, excluding sports teams.

School leaders also addressed any type of discrimination related to students who may be from countries with quarantines or big outbreaks. Interim Vice Chancellor for Student Life Frank Cuevas said the university so far doesn't have any reports but it available is students need to report something.

"If that would arise, we would follow protocol to follow-up," Cuevas said.

Last week, the university announced it was suspending all university-related international travel beyond March over concerns over the spread of COVID-19.

RELATED: Middle Tennessee man tests positive for COVID-19 following flight from Boston to Nashville

In a letter from UT Chancellor Donde Plowman, the university said it is taking further precautions in response to the spread of the coronavirus in the U.S. and internationally. The university has set up its Emergency Operations Center to plan for future scenarios. 

"There has not been a confirmed case of COVID-19 on our campus. However, a case has been confirmed in Tennessee, and it is unlikely that UT Knoxville or any other college campus will be able to avoid the impacts of the virus," Plowman said. 

UT said all university-related international travel has been suspended effective immediately. That includes travel related to teaching, research and grant activity, internships, conferences and presentations, performances and athletics. 

Anyone with plans for university-related travel in March is expected to cancel those trips. 

"We also strongly encourage you to curtail personal international travel. If you are currently overseas and will be returning in the coming weeks, you must contact your supervisor before returning to campus and follow all CDC guidelines," Plowman said.

The university said it will reimburse employees for expenses associated with international business trips that have been canceled due to COVID-19 if they can't receive reimbursement through other means. 

All university-sponsored spring break international travel has also been canceled. Study abroad sessions in Italy and Japan that depart before June 15 are also canceled. Sessions in China and South Korea have already been canceled. 

RELATED: UT suspends study abroad to Italy

RELATED: UT suspends study abroad programs in China, Korea because of coronavirus outbreak

UT is also asking students, faculty and staff to be mindful about domestic travel and bringing visitors on campus -- asking people with respiratory symptoms to stay at home and not to travel. 

"Governor Bill Lee announced Tennessee’s first confirmed case today, and other parts of the country have declared states of emergency as they work to contain the COVID-19. Please stay at home and don’t travel if you have respiratory symptoms," Plowman said.

Several conferences and events around the country have been canceled in areas where the virus has spread. 

"I understand that some of these restrictions may cause hardship, and I appreciate your cooperation," Plowman said. "Our leadership team will continue to monitor the spread of the virus in Tennessee and beyond and will make the decisions we believe will best protect the health and well-being of our community."

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