How Illinois Universities Are Handling COVID-19 on Campus

In Illinois and across the Midwest, some college campuses are seeing alarming spikes in the number of COVID-19 cases.

Many schools have launched widespread testing efforts, but reports of student parties and gatherings have led to increased restrictions, and in some cases, the possibility of sending people home. 

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That includes the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which, as of Friday, had seen more than 800 cases of COVID-19 since students returned to campus in late August. That increase led the school’s administration to take action last week on limiting student gatherings in an effort to curb the virus’s spread. 

“What we have done at the University of Illinois is kind of done a soft pivot, particularly among our undergraduate students, and saying just for two weeks, to make sure you are not out in large settings and gatherings, and socializing in those large and even those small gatherings that could potentially drive up our numbers,” said Danita M.B. Young, the school’s vice chancellor of student affairs. 

As of last Wednesday, UIUC had logged more than 200,000 tests for the virus.

“I think we’re right on course in requiring every member who comes to campus to test twice a week, and just making sure that everybody does their part in terms of wearing their face coverings and social distancing,” Young said. 

In Evanston, Northwestern University announced last week it would scale back its campus reopening, welcoming back only juniors and seniors, with some exceptions. Freshman and sophomores will take their classes remotely. 

“We’ve watched what’s gone on around in country, in terms of our peer schools that have opened, and we get a sense of our comfort level,” said Luke Figora, senior associate vice president at Northwestern. “So we’ve watched that over the last few weeks, we’ve paid attention to those trends, and putting all that together and doing some modeling on our end we felt that the right thing to do was de-densify campus a little bit further.”

Northwestern classes begin next week, and Firgoa says a vast majority will take place online. 

At Northeastern Illinois University on Chicago’s Northwest Side, Associate Provost Francisco Gaytán says the school has seen a small number of COVID-19 cases on campus, but “we haven’t seen any spikes.”

Gaytán says the school’s reopening plan was tailored specifically to NEIU’s “majority minority” student population, and that 90% of classes will be remote or online. 

“A lot of our students are essential workers,” Gaytán said. “A lot of our students do commute on public transportation to campus. So we … really thought that it was just as incumbent upon us to maintain safety by requiring students to stay home as much as possible.”

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