KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - As COVID-19 cases continue to rise at the University of Tennessee, a group of students created a COVID-19 pact, agreeing that they would leave Knox County if they needed to be tested for the virus.
One student spoke exclusively to WVLT News Anchor Amanda Hara on the condition of anonymity and said the maneuver allows students to circumvent University of Tennessee’s rules for isolation and quarantine. The student said testing outside of Knox County would allow their test results to remain confidential from the university.
However, a university spokesperson said that’s not necessarily the case. Owen Driskill, Assistant Director of News and Information at UT, told Hara that positive cases are tracked by address. For example, no matter where a student who lives in Knox County gets tested for COVID-19, if they list an accurate address with their health care provider, that information will eventually be shared with the university by the Knox County Health Department.
“When being tested, it is imperative that students list their Knoxville address. Using an address that is outside of Knox County will delay when the Knox County Health Department receives results," said Driskill.
The Knox County Health Department said there is daily communication between its officials and University of Tennessee’s response team. Only students who live in Knox County are counted in Knox County COVID-19 data.
The student who spoke exclusively with WVLT News said they attended a party on August 31st. Because less than 25 people were in attendance, the student said they did not wear the mask they brought with them.
The student then began to feel ill, but said the symptoms did not seem in line with COVID-19. The student visited a CVS minute clinic in Knoxville where a medical professional diagnosed them with a double ear infection and recommended a COVID-19 test.
The student and their four roommates then agreed that none of them would get tested in Knox County.
“My roommates and I made a pact that none of us were going to get tested in Knoxville because it always gets reported back to the university if you’re a student,” the student told Hara. “I knew at that point I was going to have to come home because I didn’t want to put my roommates in jeopardy and if I had gotten a positive test then my roommates would have had to quarantine for two weeks.”
The student said they remained in their off-campus apartment, with their own private bathroom and bedroom, for five days before returning home for a COVID-19 test. The student said they had no contact with their roommates or anyone else before leaving.
“I didn’t see them at all until I actually got up and left the building to come home. Even if I had stayed and told the university, they would also have to quarantine,” the student said.
The student arrived home in another Tennessee county on September 5 and was tested that day by a family doctor. The student was notified the next day that they tested positive for the virus.
Why was the student and their roommates so worried about involving the university? “It was kind of scary for them because they have lives besides what’s going on in mine. Some of them have in-person classes and they have to keep going on with their lives and the thought of having to be somewhere for 14 days, I feel like it was something they felt like was ridiculous," said the student.
The student told Hara that more students are beginning to test outside of the county in fear of the university finding out the results.
“I know people have not gotten tested and their roommates have tested positive. They didn’t want to have a positive test on record with the school. I know other people who have come home as well, and I know people who have had to get their own hotel rooms because they don’t want to be stuck in the ones from the school," the student said.
According to UT’s website, students are required to isolate after testing positive for COVID-19, experiencing symptoms of an infection, or coming into close contact with a positive case. The student is required to fill out a self-isolation form and cooperate with Knox County Health Department contact tracers. The website indicates students should remain in isolation until a health care provider or health officials says they can stop.
Chancellor Donde Plowman threatened to suspend or expel students who do not cooperate with contact tracers or who do not fill out the proper paperwork.
As of Monday, UT Chancellor Donde Plowman said more than 2,000 students were in isolation with more than 600 active cases.
White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx visited East Tennessee Tuesday and called on University of Tennessee students to stop participating in off-campus events that officials believe are responsible for the greatest case spread of the virus across the university. She noted, however, that closing campus would be the “the most dangerous thing” the university could do.
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