KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — University of Tennessee Knoxville Chancellor Donde Plowman has made her message clear: follow the university's COVID-19 safety guidelines or face consequences.
"We're attempting to do something this semester that has never been done before," Chancellor Plowman said during her weekly update. "Everybody has to take these precautions seriously."
One of the precautions is self-isolating as required by the university and public health authorities. As of Aug. 26, the university was reporting active self-isolation cases for 398 non-residential students, 217 residential students and 75 employees.
About half of them were isolated because they had close contact with a COVID-19 case; 144 of them have had a positive COVID-19 test.
While most students choose to isolate at home, the university has secured isolation spaces for about 200 students. 10News requested the contracts with those spaces to learn more about the university's self-isolation efforts.
In total, four contracts at area hotels and apartment complexes are costing the university at least $1,089,283.
The University of Tennessee signed two year-long leases with 303 Flats and Quarry Trail Apartments. Together, the two complexes have agreed to house up to 84 students at a time.
The leases are for furnished units with parking spaces, though the university will arrange transportation for anyone who needs it. The two complexes will charge the university $69,600 for rent and utilities each month, in addition to a $250 cleaning fee whenever a student moves out.
The university also signed short-term deals with two downtown hotels, though neither symptomatic nor COVID-19 positive students will be permitted to stay there.
At the downtown Hilton Knoxville, UT has reserved 68 rooms from Aug. 9 to Aug. 29 at $103 a night each. A university spokesperson said no additional agreements have been finalized at this time.
At the downtown Embassy Suites, the university has reserved 32 rooms from Aug. 9 to Sept. 20 at $103 a night for each room. For the safety of students, other guests and team members, the contract specifies students are not permitted in Radius (the rooftop bar), the rooftop pool, breakfast, CJs Tacos or Knox Mason.
While the Embassy Suites contract can be canceled with a seven-day notice, the two hotel bills have an estimated cost of $285,516 before cleaning fees. Individuals will be responsible for incidentals and meals, though students with meal plans can arrange for delivery.
The university also has 18 quarantine/isolation spaces on campus.
If all of these spaces run out, Chancellor Donde Plowman said students will be on their own. That's why she and the university are monitoring the numbers closely.
"What would we do if we got to the point where we had more students needing self-isolating spaces than we have? At that point, we will be asking students to isolate somewhere else," Plowman said. "Hopefully we're not going to reach that stage. And they could rent a hotel room where they could isolate with their mom and dad or family members or whatever."