Tennessee’s colleges and universities prepare for COVID among students

From designated dorms to ‘you’re on your own’

By: - August 30, 2021 4:59 am
University of Memphis students returned to campus on Aug. 23. Students attended in-person classes for the first time in close to 18 months. The university is encouraging students, teachers and staff to get vaccinated as well as use social distancing methods and masking habits. (Photo: Karen Pulfer Focht)

University of Memphis students returned to campus on Aug. 23. Students attended in-person classes for the first time in close to 18 months. The university is encouraging students, teachers and staff to get vaccinated as well as use social distancing methods and masking habits. (Photo: Karen Pulfer Focht)

William Braeden Clark, a sophomore at Middle Tennessee State University, has a backup plan in case he gets infected with COVID-19. 

Most Tennessee colleges have started fall semester at full capacity with COVID-19 policies, but policies change depending on the pandemic. Clark lives on campus but will have to quarantine off campus at his parent’s home if he gets sick. He can still attend classes online if he needs to, but he’s hoping to avoid that. 

“It’s a little scary. Last year just having to do online classes wasn’t very fun and I guess I’m scared that might happen because there’s definitely a learning drop between in person and online,” said Clark, who is an Aerospace major with a pro-pilot concentration.

Several public school systems have closed due to a surge in COVID-19 cases. Most recently, Wilson County School District announced last Friday that they will be closed until Sept. 7, three Rutherford County schools are closed as of August 30, Coffee County Schools are closed until Sept. 6, and Washington County Schools are closed until Sept. 7, among many others. 

Here’s a snapshot of different colleges across the state and their COVID-19 protocols.

Belmont University

Located in Nashville, the private, liberal arts institution started the fall semester at 100% capacity with a mandatory mask mandate when indoors, according to their COVID-19 safety protocols. Belmont conducts its own contact tracing but communicates with the Davidson Health Department on possible contamination. Unlike last year, Belmont will no longer offer quarantine areas for possibly-infected students, and unvaccinated students are required to have a plan to quarantine at an off-campus location for a minimum of 10 days. Vaccinated students will still need to quarantine if infected, but if they have yet to test positive, they can continue to attend classes in-person.  

In case students cannot quarantine quickly, Belmont officials will work with students to find a safe, transitional space until the student can isolate, said April Hefner, spokesperson for Belmont University.

Officials monitor COVID-related data to create safety protocols, which can be modified depending on broad assessment of conditions or local health orders.  

Belmont University. (Photo: John Partipilo)
Belmont University. (Photo: John Partipilo)

LeMoyne-Owen College

Located in Memphis, LeMoyne-Owen is a historically Black private university that is currently working with the Shelby County Division of Community Services to assist in community education and engagement to improve vaccination rates. 

LeMoyne-Owen is currently at 50% capacity and its COVID policy requires all employees and students to be vaccinated to attend classes in person.  A COVID coordinator double checks vaccination cards and labels them if the person hasn’t had both shots, according to Robin Douglas, COVID-19 coordinator.If they do not comply by a certain date, the person will not be allowed to work or attend classes on campus.

The school requires all employees  and students to wear personal protective equipment according to school guidelines and will provide reusable masks at no cost, according to their protocol. 

Students are checked daily for symptoms at security checkpoints and are given a dated wristband once checks are complete in order to enter a building on campus. If they show symptoms, students must contact the school’s COVID coordinator to assess potentially contaminated areas. LeMoyne-Owen conducts its own contact tracing and utilizes townhouses on campus as quarantine areas, although out-of-state students get first priority. 

University of Tennessee- Knoxville

 The state’s flagship land grant university is participating in a statewide effort to vaccinate Tennesseans and has administered nearly 9,000 Johnson & Johnson and Moderna vaccinations, according to its  COVID-19 policy. 

The university received CARES Act funds and distributed $9.62 million to 9,000 eligible students as grant aid. Officials are currently distributing $19.62 million in federal student emergency relief funds to 13,700 eligible students.

Since August 23, masks are required in all indoor public spaces except private offices and residence halls, according to UT’s COVID guidelines. While university officials are encouraging vaccinations, students are not required to be vaccinated and instead are asked to take extra precautions, such as social distancing whenever possible.

Students who test positive for the virus will have to plan for their own isolation, meals and transportation. Vaccinated students and employees are not required to quarantine if exposed but present no symptoms. 

University of Memphis

Located in Memphis, classes started at 100% capacity and masks are required in all indoor locations, according to its policy. Shelby County also has a county-wide mask mandate in place to slow down a surge of COVID cases threatening to overrun their medical facilities. 

Masked students walk across the University of Memphis campus. (Photo: John Partipilo)
Masked students walk across the University of Memphis campus. (Photo: Karen Pulfer Focht)

Students and staff are encouraged to get vaccinated, but the vaccine is not required. 

Students and staff are asked to check for symptoms on a daily basis. If they come in close contact with the virus or test positive, students are required to contact the dean of students office, which will provide students with any available resources. 


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Dulce Torres Guzman
Dulce Torres Guzman

Dulce has written for the Nashville Scene and Crucero News. A graduate of Middle Tennessee State University, she received the John Seigenthaler Award for Outstanding Graduate in Print Journalism in 2016. Torres Guzman is a member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. She enjoys the outdoors and is passionate about preserving the environment and environmental issues.