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Everything’s different this year—even winter break. Remote exams and rising COVID-19 rates, added to the usual joys and stresses of the season, mean it’s no longer as simple as students finishing their last final, throwing their laundry in a suitcase, and hitting the road. With the end of the semester fast approaching, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, is committed to making the difficult transition easier for students.

Action Items and Planning

To help students plan for returning home, UT created an end-of-semester informational guide that outlines a list of to-dos and resources students can reference. Recommended steps include scheduling a flu shot, getting a COVID-19 test, packing for remote exams, planning travel arrangements, and sharing strategies for managing stress.

Multiple flu shot clinics were hosted on campus throughout the fall, open to students, faculty, and staff. Students or employees who missed the clinics can still get a flu shot at the UT Student Health Pharmacy. The Student Health Center also offers COVID-19 testing through EverlyWell home collection kits for students and employees on request. They can stop by the Student Health Center to obtain a kit and instructions.

“Students definitely need to start their preparations now,” said Spencer Gregg, director of the Student Health Center. “It’ll take anywhere from one to three days to get results back for a COVID-19 test, so students should get a test a few days before they plan to travel. While awaiting their results, students should self-isolate.”

In a recent live update with Chancellor Donde Plowman, Gregg gave reminders about CDC guidelines and shared information on how to celebrate the holidays safely. He stressed thinking about not just yourself, but also those around you when making plans for break.

“We want your break to be safe for you and those you’ll be with. With what’s being seen around the state and the country, now is not the time to let your guard down,” he said. “We all need to remain vigilant.”

Over break, the Student Health Center will remain open for students who have clinical medical needs or would like to be tested for COVID-19.

Health and Wellness

Students’ plans to return home for break should include being intentional about staying healthy, both mentally and physically. Tuesday, November 24, marks the last day of classes for the fall 2020 semester. Final exams will be held online December 2–9. These changes to the academic calendar were implemented to limit student travel and help reduce the potential for travel-related spread of COVID-19.

This means students will be away from campus for nearly two months before returning mid-January for the spring semester. An extended break, while refreshing for some, can present added challenges related to mental health and staying connected with friends and support systems.

The Student Counseling Center aims to alleviate that stress, offering telehealth and therapy assistance online. These services will be accessible virtually over winter break. UT’s 24-hour helpline, 865-974-HELP, will continue to operate assisting students in distress. The staff helpline, 865-946-CARE, will also be available.

Michele Dorsainvil, associate director of UT’s Center for Health Education and Wellness, wants students to remember that the university community can get through this pandemic together.

“It’s important to tap into the skills that we’ve all used to manage the stress of the pandemic over the last eight months and continue to use them,” she said. “We all need to take time to unwind and recharge in the ways that feel best for you.”

For students in need of something more active, UT’s Department of Recreational Sports (RecSports) will continue to provide virtual group fitness classes November 30–December 16 and again January 4–13.

Jill Zambito, assistant vice chancellor for student life, noted that health, wellness, and recreation are all critical parts of a student’s overall success and need to be treated as a priority, now, throughout winter break, and beyond.

“Moving through this semester in our altered world is a true accomplishment, and I’m extremely proud of our students, faculty, and staff for doing so with courage and creativity,” she said.