Officials believe things have gone well for Tennessee Wesleyan University since it came back into session on Aug. 17.
According to TWU President Harley Knowles, the college has been “very fortunate” during its opening.
“Our students have been fantastic with regard to wearing masks, social distancing, washing their hands ... We have just had wonderful compliance,” said Knowles. “As a result we have had very few cases (of COVID-19). I think we have two active cases right now with one in Knoxville and one in Athens, so we feel very fortunate compared to what is happening in many of the other colleges and universities.”
He believes the college’s response plan for those who exhibit symptoms is working enough to help prevent the virus from spreading to other students and staff.
“It is an imperfect science but we feel that we have really responded well,” he expressed. “The one area we really had concerns is really in the contact tracing. We had worked out some procedures that have really helped us in that regard and we have some people who do the contact tracing in addition to the health department.”
The college has worked out a relationship with a local physician allowing students to be tested for COVID-19 along with the student releasing information to the contact tracers. This allows the university to reach out to all individuals who have been in contact with the student who tested positive so they can quarantine.
“That gets really complicated in a hurry but we have really responded well so far,” Knowles stated. “It is all about being speedy about the contact tracing along with containing and separating those people who might be positive or may have concerns of being positive.”
Professors and staff of the college have also been great, according to Knowles.
“One of the concerns you always have, in this type of situation, is, are they going to perceive that the campus is safe enough for them to return,” he said. “They are obviously a different demographic then are students with most of them being older ... They have been great and really led the way to make sure that they stay safe as well as making sure that their students do not contract the virus.”
One area of concern for TWU is the school’s athletic programs.
“We have had a delayed start with our competitions,” Knowles said. “They are conditioning, practicing and getting screened every day but we are waiting to get some guidelines from our conference to determine if we should delay it more because we don’t want to put people at risk.”
Their main concerns for the guidelines involve transportation and hotel accommodations.
“Athletes are a big part of what we do. We attract about 450 athletes of our 1,100 students, so it is a big part of who our students are,” he stated. “They come to compete and we want them to be safe and not put them at risk.”
Another concern university officials have pertains to student gatherings outside of the classroom.
“They have been doing well following the guidelines, but one of our main concerns are the gatherings on the weekends or other activities during their free time,” he noted. “They may be at an apartment or social event and let their guard down ... We need to do all of the core actions that they know they need to do during the weekends and avoid large functions and gatherings that college students like to do ... That is really the Achilles’ heel and that is true for everyone, not just our students.”
Knowles also noted that he is concerned about the upcoming flu season.
“It is very important for people to get their flu vaccines,” he said. “It will make a big difference of how the winter goes and certainly into the spring. It is in our best interest ... With all of the schools and everybody working together to take care of each other, as well as do what we need to do, we will be a strong community.”
Despite his concerns, Knowles is most proud of his students’ “spirit of cooperation.”
“I have always known that our students were polite, respectful and thoughtful. We talk a lot about servant leadership and taking care of each other and others before ourselves is an important value for our institution,” Knowles said. “Our students just display over and over their care for other people by wearing masks, doing the things they need to do and I have been overwhelmed, to be honest, to see the level of cooperation of our students. Their appreciation of our whole campus community and how they express that by following the core actions has really been amazing and I am very proud and grateful of them for that.”