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MYTHS AND FACTS: The coronavirus, flu, and xenophobia on UT Campus

A lot of the world-conscious members of our UT community have been aware and talking about the recent outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19), a mild to moderate respiratory disease caused by a novel virus called SARS-CoV-2 that was first identified in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China in 2019. Concern for the communities in China and other parts of the world currently affected by this outbreak, as well as how this might affect us here at home in Knoxville, Tennessee, is absolutely normal.

However, the spread of misinformation through media, social media, and word of mouth, rooted in part in anti-Chinese and xenophobic prejudices, can and has resulted (both globally and locally here on campus) in uninformed and racist hysteria. Hate and prejudice will do more harm on our campus than the chance of a virus outbreak, and we as the UT Graduate Student Senate condemn any racist and xenophobic biases, jokes, and hate speech and crimes against our university’s International and Asian-American communities. We call on our campus to channel true Volunteer spirit (Vol Means All) to support one another, and to use the discerning and curious minds we are known for to critically assess sources of information for facts versus fiction.

In an effort to keep our campus healthy and safe for all Volunteers, with advisement from the UT Department of Public Health, we provide the following information and resources about COVID-19, the current outbreaks of flu on our campus, as well as resources for UTK International and Asian American students, faculty, and staff who may experience or have experienced bias and prejudice on our campus. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact the GSS Equity and Diversity Committee at Whether you are a graduate or undergraduate student, we can connect you with resources on campus and help bring your concerns to the university administration.


On the Coronavirus:

COVID-19 is a respiratory virus that causes a range of mild flu-like symptoms including fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Symptoms are believed to appear in as few as 2 days or as long as 14 days after exposure. Any deaths related to the coronavirus have been from complications, often pneumonia, with adults over the age of 80 experiencing the most complications. While death rates are difficult to determine early in the course of an epidemic, 1,870 people out of 72,528 reported cases have died from Coronavirus according to the WHO Situation Report, which is far fewer than the deaths related to this season’s flu.

See also:

The best way to prevent infection with COVID-19 is to avoid exposure to the virus. This virus is spread through person-to-person contact. However, the CDC assessed the risk of exposure to this virus in the United States as low. At this time, the virus is NOT currently spreading in communities in the United States. The greatest risk of infection is for people in China or those who have recently traveled to China. If you have been to China in the past 14 days and feel sick with any of the above symptoms, seek medical care. See the CDC website for more comprehensive information:


On the current Flu Season:

Currently, the major virus-threat we are experiencing on UT campus and throughout the state of Tennessee is the flu (influenza). Receiving the flu shot at the start of each flu season significantly helps prepare your immune system to both avoid contracting major strains and help minimize the symptoms and complications from the virus. Much like the Coronavirus, getting the flu is not an automatic death sentence for most people. Mild to moderate respiratory symptoms, body aches, fever, and gastrointestinal symptoms (typically in younger individuals) are most commonly experienced. However, for those who are immunocompromised, have pre-existing chronic health conditions, who are very young or elderly, or even those with strong immune systems who suffer from complications from the flu such as secondary infections, the flu does have a significant mortality risk. From October 1, 2019, through February 8, 2020 (the current flu season), the CDC has preliminarily estimated 250,000-450,000 hospitalizations and 14,000-36,000 influenza deaths in the United States alone. Thus, in order to protect ourselves and each other from infection and transmission of the flu virus, prevention in its spread is critical.


How to prevent the spread of respiratory diseases like the Flu or Coronavirus:

  • Get a flu shot if you can safely do so. (Talk to your doctor and pharmacist about all risk factors relating to your personal health history before receiving the flu shot if you have not received one before or there have been recent changes to your health history).
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with your elbow
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces
  • Wash your hands often with soap for at least 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol
  • Stay home when you are sick except to get medical care


If you do contract the flu, most cases can safely be treated at home with over-the-counter medication. You may talk to your local pharmacist over the phone for advice on what medications are best for you. If your fever diminishes but then suddenly spikes again, if your symptoms do not begin to improve after a week, or if you have a persistent cough or pain in your sinuses, ears, or chest, call your doctor for advice and to see if they want you to come in. If you get the flu and are high-risk for complications for the flu due to your health history, be sure to contact your doctor right away.

In some rare cases emergency health services (Urgent Care or the Emergency Room) may be necessary. The UT Health Center advises that:

Immediate health problems like Chest Pain, Difficulty Breathing, Head Injury with symptoms, Headache with Fever and Stiff Neck or Unexplained Rash, Abdominal Pain lasting more than two hours, Persistent Vomiting, Fever >103 F Unrelieved with Oral Hydration and Fever-Reducing Medication, or Severe Pain of Any Kind are of such a potentially serious nature that immediate evaluation through an Emergency Room is the safest approach to your care.”


For concerns about physical health:

Student Health Center
1800 Volunteer Blvd
For same day appointments: (865) 974-5080
Non-Emergency Drop-in & Telephone Triage until 4pm
(865) 974-5080 (Triage Nurse)
Hours: Mo, Tu, Th, Fr 8am-4pm
Wed 9am-4 pm

For medical emergencies, go to the UT Medical Center Emergency Room, call the ER at (865) 305-9000, or call 911. 

If unable to attend class due to medical illness, submit an absence notification to the Office of the Dean of Students


For International students who may experience bias, hate speech, or hate crimes on campus:

If you have experienced continuous bias or a bias incident on campus, you may report this to the university via the UT Bias Incident Reporting Form.

The University’s Bias Education and Referral Team (BERT) conduct investigations while partnered with other offices on campuses and “are available to support and guide students seeking assistance in determining how to handle a bias incident. The team members will review incident reports and meet with affected students to facilitate services such as counseling, health services, or other referrals as needed to address safety concerns and to provide assistance and comfort to those impacted.”

Questions about protocols and procedures for the BERT reporting system should be directed to the Office of the Dean of Students, 865-974-3179,

Additional resources may be found at:


International students may specifically contact I-House for guidance and support:

International House
Center for Global Engagement
1623 Melrose Ave
Mon – Th 8 am-9pm, Fri 8am-5pm
(865) 974-4453

Students should also consider reaching out to UT Student Organizations for community care. Such organizations formed by the International and Asian-American student communities on campus include:

For academic support after experiencing trauma from bias or hate incidences, contact the Office of the Dean of Students:

Dean of Students
Division of Student Life
Student Union Suite 383
(865) 974-3179


If you are a fellow Vol are in distress, you may also contact this office via their 24/7 hotline 974-HELP to speak with a case manager about options and next steps. You may call 865-974-HELP (4357) or fill out their online referral form (UT Login Required).

Additional support can be found at:

Office of Equity and Diversity
1840 Melrose Ave
(865) 974-2498

Office of Multicultural Student Life
1800 Melrose Avenue

For mental health and wellness support:

Counseling Center
Student Health Building, 2nd Floor
1800 Volunteer Blvd
M-F 8am-5pm
(865) 974-2196