It has been a common trend for students to place bets on how long they believe it will take for schools to make the decision to pull the plug on living on campus due to high numbers of positive COVID-19 tests on campus. Two weeks? A month? Every school is handling the pandemic differently but at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I could not be more impressed with how our leadership has followed science, established strict rules, and how our professors have worked hard to create a saliva-based coronavirus test.
I believe my Big Ten school of 50,000 total students (about 40,000 students on campus this semester) can make it. Why? All students, staff, and faculty members are required to…
... test twice a week on campus
It is a simple saliva-based test developed by two University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign professors, and it was just approved by the FDA for emergency use.
After sending out a survey to students weeks ago, the University assigned students two days a week to get tested. This helps decrease wait times and holds students accountable.
There are 17 testing sites on campus. During the week, students normally have to wait no more than 15 minutes. However, on the weekend there are fewer test sites open. I had to wait two hours to get tested last Sunday, but there was no line when I went to a site on Tuesday morning. They are now planning to open more testing sites on the weekends to decrease lines.
Since July, UIUC has processed over 105,000 tests on campus. This accounts for about 1–3 percent of all testing done in the nation.
... download the “Safer Illinois” app
This app is constantly sending me notifications (the "checking for exposures" notification never leaves my lock screen). "Safer Illinois" shows our test results, connects us with doctors, shows a code to scan us into buildings ONLY if we test negative, and, most importantly, helps with contact tracing. If I am in contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19 the app will notify me and connect me with the Champaign County Public Health Department for further steps and instructions.
... wear a mask
PPE kits included! All students received a kit with masks, wipes, hand sanitizer, a thermometer, and a "clean key." They are providing undergraduate and graduate students with the tools to stay healthy and continue to learn safely.
The city of Champaign has also issued two ordinances to put a stop to big parties at Campustown bars and restaurants. One ordinance requires people to stay seated at bars and restaurants and wear face coverings when not eating or drinking. After 9 p.m., the bars are 21+ instead of Champaign's usual 19+ age requirement. The second ordinance calls for no indoor dining on campus. Campustown restaurants are only available for carryout or outdoor dining.
In an interview with Kate McGee at WBEZ, University leaders shared that they believe with the requirements in place, they can limit the number of cases to 700 this semester with 40,000 students on campus. In one week, between August 17 and August 24, the University reported 408 confirmed cases and a 0.7 percent positivity rate, compared to the CDC's national average rate of 9 percent. Researchers predicted a bump in positive cases at the beginning of the semester.
I am more proud than ever to be an Illini. I am heartbroken that this school year is nothing but normal and it is quite the adjustment to have a fall with no Marching Illini, no football, and only one in-person class, but going to a University that puts so much into its students is comforting.
For more information about testing at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, visit these websites: