COVID-19 CASES SPIKE AT U. OF I.

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY CLARE PROC­TOR, STAFF RE­PORTER cproc­tor@sun­times.com | @ce­proc­tor23

Stu­dents at the Univer­sity of Illi­nois at Ur­bana-Cham­paign could be sus­pended for not fol­low­ing the school’s quar­an­tine guide­lines, of­fi­cials said af­ter the state’s flag­ship school saw a spike in COVID-19 cases since the se­mes­ter be­gan last week.

More than 700 peo­ple have tested pos­i­tive at UIUC since the first day of classes Aug. 24, school of­fi­cials said at a Wed­nes­day press con­fer­ence. If the cur­rent trends con­tinue, the school will have dou­ble the num­ber of COVID-19 cases ev­ery week, lead­ing to as many as 8,000 cases over fall se­mes­ter, of­fi­cials said.

More than 95% of cases are among stu­dents, said Awais Vaid, an epi­demi­ol­o­gist with the Cham­paign-Ur­bana Pub­lic Health District (CUPHD).

School ad­min­is­tra­tion says par­ties and other large gath­er­ings over the week­end are to blame for the high num­ber of pos­i­tive tests, as well as stu­dents dis­re­gard­ing guid­ance to self-iso­late af­ter test­ing pos­i­tive or be­ing ex­posed to some­one who tests pos­i­tive. Two stu­dents have been sus­pended, and 100 more are be­ing in­ves­ti­gated and could face school dis­ci­pline.

The school em­pha­sized Wed­nes­day that stu­dents face “immediate sus­pen­sion” if they don’t quar­an­tine or iso­late per univer­sity di­rec­tion. Peo­ple host­ing par­ties will also be sus­pended im­me­di­ately, too.

“The ir­re­spon­si­ble and dan­ger­ous ac­tions of a small num­ber of our stu­dents has cre­ated a very real pos­si­bil­ity of end­ing an in-per­son se­mes­ter for all of us here,” said UIUC Chan­cel­lor Robert Jones. “There are poor choices that led to a very con­cern­ing and rapid in­crease in the num­ber of new un­der­grad­u­ate COVID-19 pos­i­tive cases.”

Most soror­i­ties and fra­ter­ni­ties on cam­pus have worked to­gether with the school to tamp down on par­ty­ing, said Danita Brown Young, vice chan­cel­lor for stu­dent af­fairs.

“The prob­lem is we know there are par­ties that are oc­cur­ring that we can’t see,” Brown Young said. “If we can’t see the vi­o­la­tions vis­i­bly, there’s not a lot we can do.”

The school’s twice-weekly manda­tory test­ing plan be­came a model for many other col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties in an­tic­i­pa­tion of fall se­mes­ter. Most peo­ple get their re­sults within 24 hours, said Martin Burke, an as­so­ciate dean of re­search at the univer­sity’s grad­u­ate med­i­cal school.

The univer­sity launched its Shield Team 30 in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the CUPHD Wed­nes­day to iden­tify and con­tact stu­dents who’ve tested pos­i­tive for the virus more quickly.

The team’s goal is to safely iso­late peo­ple within 30 min­utes of iden­ti­fy­ing a pos­i­tive case, Burke said.

A UIUC Shield Team was in place in July, and the school saw its pos­i­tiv­ity rate drop be­low 0.2%, Burke said.

“This is why we felt rightly con­fi­dent this would work,” Burke said. “What we didn’t an­tic­i­pate is that stu­dents would will­ingly break the law.”

UIUC an­tic­i­pated an ini­tial surge in cases in the wake of stu­dents re­turn­ing to cam­pus from Aug. 16-24. Un­like univer­sity es­ti­mates, which ex­pected COVID-19 cases to de­cline fol­low­ing move-in, the num­ber of pos­i­tive cases has re­mained high.

The school’s model for pre­dict­ing the spread of the virus on cam­pus did take into ac­count stu­dents go­ing to par­ties and not wear­ing masks, said Nigel Gold­en­feld, a physics pro­fes­sor at UIUC. What the model didn’t pre­dict was stu­dents’ non­com­pli­ance with self-quar­an­tin­ing af­ter they’ve tested pos­i­tive or been ex­posed to some­one with COVID-19.

Some stu­dents have “know­ingly and will­fully” avoided calls from CUPHD, Burke said.

Un­til Sept. 16, the school is di­rect­ing all un­der­grad­u­ate stu­dents to leave their dorm rooms or apart­ments only to go to class or work, buy food, at­tend re­li­gious ser­vices, seek med­i­cal at­ten­tion, do an in­di­vid­ual out­door ac­tiv­ity or tak­ing twice weekly man­dated COVID-19 tests. The school is also de­ploy­ing more staff to mon­i­tor large gath­er­ings and par­ties in dorms and off-cam­pus hous­ing.

UIUC se­nior Ali Mizra, a stu­dent mem­ber of the school’s Board of Trustees, said sus­pen­sion poses a “cred­i­ble threat” to stu­dents on cam­pus.

“Some stu­dents have the mis­con­cep­tion that we are go­ing to go home, so you might as well make the best of the time you have here now,” Mizra said. “Mak­ing an ex­am­ple of some stu­dents will make ev­ery­body com­ply with the poli­cies that we put in place.”

SUN-TIMES FILE PHOTO

The splke in COVID-19 cases at the U. of I. in Ur­bana-Cham­paign “has cre­ated a very real pos­si­bil­ity of end­ing an in-per­son se­mes­ter for all of us here,” the chan­cel­lor says.

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