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Testing, screening, and contact tracing

The campus’s program includes periodic testing of wastewater in residential facilities, community saliva testing of asymptomatic students living on campus, nasal swab diagnostic testing for students, and self-screenings and contact tracing for students and employees.

Updated: March 23, 2021

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Daily temperature checks and health self-screenings are required for all students and employees.
  • To monitor the prevalence of the virus on campus and identify asymptomatic students who may need diagnostic testing, the university conducts community saliva testing of students living on campus.
  • The Student Health Center provides diagnostic testing for symptomatic students, asymptomatic students who are close contacts of individuals diagnosed with COVID-19, and students identified in positive pools through the saliva testing program.
  • The campus has a team of contact tracers who identify and follow up with students and employees who have tested positive for COVID-19 and with their close contacts who are students or employees.

The campus COVID-19 testing program is fully compliant with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American College Health Association (ACHA), the State of Tennessee, the UT System Task Force, and the UT Knoxville Re-Imagining Fall Task Force.

Diagnostic testing

The Student Health Center provides diagnostic testing for:

  • Symptomatic students
  • Asymptomatic students who are close contacts of individuals diagnosed with COVID-19
  • Students identified in positive pools through the campus community saliva testing program.

The diagnostic test is a PCR test administered through a nasal swab.

Students will not be charged out-of-pocket fees for tests. Through special arrangements with regional reference labs and the Tennessee Department of Health, test charges are billed to third-party insurers or the Tennessee Department of Health as applicable.

The Student Health Center has a supply of free Everlywell COVID-19 test home collection kits for student and employee use. Interested students and employees can contact the center to make arrangements for an Everlywell kit.

Learn how to get a free Everlywell COVID-19 test home collection kit.

Employees can also obtain testing from their local health department or health care provider. The Knox County Health Department has a map of COVID-19 testing sites in the area.

While awaiting diagnostic test results, students and employees should self-isolate and avoid close contact with others. They should promptly respond to any communication from the campus contact tracing team.

After receiving test results, students and employees should follow guidance from the university and their health care provider regarding the duration of their isolation or quarantine.

When students are tested, it is imperative that they list their Knoxville address. Using an address outside of Knox County will delay the Knox County Health Department’s access to results.

Testing for individuals who have had COVID-19

According to the CDC, people who have previously tested positive for COVID-19 and completed their isolation do not need to isolate or be tested again for up to three months as long as they do not develop symptoms again. They should continue to monitor their health, stay home anytime they do not feel well, and consult a health care provider if they develop COVID-19 symptoms again.

Daily health self-screening

To help slow the spread of COVID-19, daily temperature checks and health self-screenings are required for students and employees. The daily health self-screening form is available at or through the Tennessee app.

Learn more about required daily health self-screening.

Community saliva testing

On-campus residents must participate in the university’s community health campaign to monitor the prevalence of COVID-19 on campus.

In addition to monitoring prevalence, the community saliva testing program helps to identify asymptomatic students who may have COVID-19. These students are referred to the Student Health Center for follow-up diagnostic testing.

An on-campus laboratory processes saliva samples in pools of three to five, an efficient way to test large groups of people. The lab typically delivers results to the Student Health Center in one to two business days.

Students are contacted by the Student Health Center only if results from the saliva tests indicate that they need to have a follow-up individual diagnostic test. Students generally do not need to self-isolate after submitting saliva samples for regular community saliva testing. Learn more about when to self-isolate.

Student participation in community testing is essential to helping us monitor the spread of COVID-19, determine whether restrictions can be lifted, and protect the safety and health of everyone on campus. Learn more about participation in community saliva testing.

View upcoming community saliva testing events.

Protocols for saliva analysis

The saliva testing laboratory, fully operated by the university, has established stringent protocols for processing saliva samples.

  • Only viral RNA from saliva is amplified and analyzed in the qPCR testing process. The test does not amplify or analyze human DNA.
  • Saliva collection tubes are bar coded, but the testing laboratory does not have access to personal information of any participant. The testing laboratory submits results to the Student Health Center, and only Student Health Center personnel have the ability to identify individuals whose saliva results indicate that they need to schedule a diagnostic test.
  • Saliva samples are not used for any other purpose and are destroyed after testing is complete. A subset of anonymized saliva samples may occasionally be sent to an external laboratory for quality control of university testing protocols. Neither the university’s nor the external lab’s personnel are able to identify which individuals provided the saliva samples used for quality control purposes.

Wastewater testing

Wastewater epidemiology is a technique that is still developing and is being explored in tests around the world to detect the presence of the SARS CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19. While scientists are still learning about the utility of this surveillance technique, many believe it may provide useful data for decision-making.

A wastewater sample is collected periodically from campus residential buildings and analyzed for presence of the virus. Coupled with results of community saliva testing and nasal swab testing of individuals, wastewater monitoring helps the university determine how well COVID-19 protections are working to safeguard students living on campus and when more targeted interventions may be necessary.

Contact tracing

The university works in coordination with the Knox County Health Department to perform contact tracing.

The contact tracing team’s role is to check on the situation of a student or employee who has (or may have) COVID-19 or been exposed, help connect them to support resources, provide guidance, and help contact others who may need to take precautions.

Anyone who submits a COVID-19 self-isolation form is contacted by the campus contact tracing staff—generally within 24 hours, but the response time can vary depending on case loads.

Students and employees are asked to promptly respond to communications (text, call, or email) from local health authorities and the campus contact tracing team.

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville

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