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Changing Mask Requirements at UT Knoxville

Dear colleagues,

There is understandable confusion today related to masks on campus that I want to address. Things are changing quickly related to state and federal laws dictating mask and vaccine requirements and prohibitions. Despite our very low COVID-19 numbers on campus, we are working to maintain compliance with applicable laws.

As things currently stand, to maintain compliance with federal Executive Order 14042 we must put a mask requirement back in place for most UT Knoxville buildings, which we plan to do effective Monday, November 22.

What happened?

Yesterday evening, employees received an email from UT System President Randy Boyd lifting the mask mandate across the system to comply with a new state law prohibiting mask and vaccine mandates, which became effective Friday afternoon. There is also a federal executive order that requires covered employees of federal contractors to be vaccinated and requires federal contractor buildings to follow CDC mask guidance. UT Knoxville is a federal contractor.

Because federal funding is at stake, the new state law provides federal contractors with the ability to apply for an exemption to the state law, and President Boyd applied on behalf of the UT System to the state comptroller. We received notice of the exemption yesterday, shortly after President Boyd’s email was sent.

What’s next?

Now that we have an exemption from the state law, as a federal contractor UT Knoxville must move forward to comply with the federal executive order. We have determined that it applies to nearly all UT Knoxville buildings and the people who work in them—including UTIA and UTSI facilities and employees—with the exception of athletics facilities, residence halls, and recreational sports facilities like TRECS.

We are waiting until Monday because the Tennessee attorney general has filed a lawsuit arguing that the federal vaccine mandate is unlawful and unconstitutional. Court rulings in that lawsuit or other legal proceedings could come by the end of this week and may provide additional clarity as to what UT Knoxville, as a federal contractor, will be legally required to do.

What does this mean for you?

We are preparing for the mask requirement to be back in place on Monday, November 22. Until that time, please make whatever personal choice you think is best while being respectful of your students and fellow employees, whether they choose to wear a mask or not.

We will share additional information, including information about the federal vaccine mandate and how to comply, on Monday.

I know these changing conditions are confusing, and we will continue to update you as we know more. Thank you for your understanding as we continue to navigate challenging times. I appreciate all the work you do to make our university a success every day.

Donde Plowman