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UTHSC COVID-19 Update: Our Current Response


Faculty, Staff, and Students,

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our world. We now fully understand that we are not immune to serious diseases that can sweep our planet, threaten our lives, and damage our economies. For all of us, this is unique in our lives. Not since the flu pandemic of 1918 has our world been threatened in this manner by a globe-sweeping highly contagious infection.

We care about our state-wide community. Like many of our local organizations, the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) has been impacted by the coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19) in numerous ways. Our campus has been converted to remote learning in ways we thought would take us years to achieve. We are largely working remotely to protect the safety of our employees, while keep the university up and running. When unprecedented emergencies arise, extraordinary measures are required to protect the health and safety of our community.

UTHSC has been on the frontline in the fight to contain this disease. First and foremost, our more than 1,000 physicians, dentists, pharmacists, and other health professions are actively engaged at our teaching hospitals providing essential care to patients. Our 1,400 residents and fellows get up every day and provide essential health care to all of our patients.

Additionally, UTHSC has:

  • Partnered with University Clinical Health, the Shelby County Health Department, and the City of Memphis to open a drive-thru COVID-19 testing facility at the fairgrounds in Memphis where we test more than 150 patients each day. This drive-thru is staffed by well-trained volunteer UTHSC medical students and overseen by UTHSC faculty. It is free of charge.
  • Developed a high throughput COVID-19 lab facility on campus that can analyze over 1,500 tests per day with one day results. This testing facility was developed in cooperation with University Clinical Health and our UTHSC Department of Pathology.
  • Opened our Dunn Dental Building to dental emergencies so those patients do not take infection risk and clog our overburdened emergency rooms.
  • Converted our Plough Center for Sterile Drug Solutions to manufacture hand sanitizer and other short supply sterilants. We can make over 100 liters of these products a day.
  • Converted the Level 3 Regional Biocontainment Laboratory (one of 11 in the nation) to a COVID-19 research facility. In working with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, we are now testing compounds to determine their effect as antiviral agents to treat this disease. In addition, we stand ready to manufacture these drugs at our Plough Center when they are found to be effective.

Many questions remain unanswered at this point:

  • Will the campus fully close?
  • When will we reopen clinical rotations for students?
  • When will students return to campus?
  • When will employees be required to return to work?

Some of these answers will be based on the actions of federal, state, and local government, and some will be based on our accrediting bodies. But all are based on the control of the pandemic.

Currently, we anticipate our face-to-face lectures will continue via remote delivery for the beginning of the fall term (July 1, 2020). We also await guidance from our accrediting bodies about when we restart clinical training for the colleges that have paused it.

For more information and resources on COVID-19, please visit uthsc.edu/coronavirus.

We will communicate frequently as the situation changes.

With thanks for all that you do!

Steve J. Schwab, MD