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U Of I Officials Share Plans To Prevent, And Prepare For, Possible COVID-19 Spread

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A University of Illinois webinar about reopening plans for Fall 2020 included Chancellor Robert Jones; Danita Brown, U of I vice chancellor of student affairs; Sean Garrick, U of I vice chancellor for diversity, equity and inclusion; and Robin Kaler, associate chancellor for public affairs.

URBANA – Despite the precautions that will be taken when the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign reopens this fall, campus officials acknowledge outbreaks could still occur. 

In a webinar Wednesday, campus officials provided more detail about reopening plans as they pertain to housing, in-person and online instruction and other aspects of campus life.

Precautions to prevent outbreaks will include using a mix of in-person and online classes and spacing people out as much as possible in residential housing, campus buildings and common areas.

Instead of the typical move-in weekend, students will sign up for one of ten timeslots to drop off belongings prior to moving in. Each student will be allowed two guests only, with masks and social distancing required, said Danita Brown, U of I vice chancellor of student affairs.

Workout facilities will have capacity limits with plastic shields separating equipment that brings people closer than six feet apart. On-site dining will be “extremely limited,” Brown said, with most people picking up food to-go in disposable packing from multiple location sites across campus.

Across campus, spaces prone to student congregating — such as the Illini Union, libraries and other common areas — will have furniture spread out and floors marked to provide visual cues for social distancing. “High-touch” areas will be regularly cleaned and sanitized.

The campus will offer saliva-based COVID-19 testing and conduct contact tracing for any cases that arise — the details of which were discussed in a webinar last week.

Masks or face coverings and social distancing will be required of students, faculty and staff at all times, Brown said.

Given the possibility students could contract COVID-19, Brown said the campus will be setting aside 5% of on-campus housing to accommodate students needing to isolate or quarantine. 

These students would be provided meals with contactless delivery, and instructors are expected to make arrangements for remote learning, said Sean Garrick, U of I vice chancellor for diversity, equity and inclusion. Students can also choose to leave campus to isolate or quarantine at home, if that’s an option for them and they have the ability to travel back safely.

If students live in off-campus housing with roommates, which would prevent them from being able to isolate or quarantine, Brown said the campus would work with the Champaign-Urbana Public Health DIstrict to “find an adequate quarantine space.”

U of I spokesperson Robin Kaler said some parents of incoming freshmen, who are required to live on campus, want to move them off campus for safety reasons. 

Brown said they’ll need to apply, showing they have a medical condition or will be commuting from home within a 40-mile radius. 

In an email after the webinar, Kaler said those who break their housing contract without approval will be charged 50% of the year’s room and board charges, or 75% if the school year has already begun.

“These are different amounts for each student depending on the type of room and particular meal plan they choose,” Kaler said.

Regarding enforcement of policies requiring face covering and social distancing, Brown said the campus will emphasize educating students who violate policies aimed at protecting everyone’s safety and empowering them to be responsible and choose to follow safe practices.

“If it’s a continued non-compliance issue, then those students definitely would go to the office of student conflict resolution and could face different types of disciplinary action,” Brown said.

Garrick said accommodations will be made for students whose learning could be negatively affected by the safety measures being taken on campus. 

For example, if a student is hard-of-hearing and relies on lip-reading to understand their instructors, plastic shields can be placed in front of the instructor at the front of the classroom so that a mask is not needed.

The campus also has a technology loan program for students who don’t have access to technology or internet access they need for remote learning. 

Students in need of mental health services have had — and will continue to have — access to telecounseling through the McKinley Health Center, Brown says.

Regarding student programming on- and off-campus, Garrick said student organizations are being provided with guidelines that comply with federal, state and local public health guidelines for gatherings, events and other activities. 

Registered student organizations, as well as fraternities and sororities, are independent of the university, Garrick said. But when using campus resources and space for events, compliance with campus rules will be expected and required.

“While we want everyone to do things perfectly, we know that won’t happen on day one, so it’s about working with them,” Garrick said.

Christine Herman is a reporter at Illinois Public Media. Follow her on Twitter: @CTHerman

COVID-19 is a rapidly evolving story, and we are working hard to bring you the most up-to-date information. We recommend checking the Coronavirus Information Center for the most recent numbers and guidance.

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Christine Herman

Christine Herman

Christine Herman is a Ph.D. chemist turned audio journalist who covers health for the Illinois Newsroom. Her reporting for Illinois Public Media/WILL has received awards from the Illinois Associated Press Broadcasters Association, the Public Media Journalists Association and has reached both regional and national audiences through WILL's health reporting partnership with Side Effects Public Media, NPR and Kaiser Health News. Christine started at WILL in 2015.

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