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Watch now: More COVID-19 testing in store for students returning to Illinois State, Illinois Wesleyan universities
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COVID TESTING | SPECIAL REPORT

Watch now: More COVID-19 testing in store for students returning to Illinois State, Illinois Wesleyan universities

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BLOOMINGTON — Students at Illinois Wesleyan and Illinois State universities face a lot more tests as they return for spring semester this week. But the tests aren’t on coursework — they are COVID-19 tests.

Both universities have begun testing students, starting with resident assistants and student athletes.

Classes start Monday at ISU and Wednesday at IWU.

ISU listed a total of 1,924 cases of COVID-19 among its students from Aug. 17 through Thursday, with 16 active cases. IWU had a total of 194 cases through Nov. 19, when its semester ended. IWU will resume updates of its "dashboard" of COVID-19 case statistics once classes start.

All IWU students, regardless of where they live, are required to undergo baseline testing, as they did at the start of the fall semester. They will be required to quarantine until notified that their testing results are negative.

Anyone who tested positive in the 90 days before the start of spring semester testing can opt out of baseline testing with proper documentation.

At ISU, students living in on-campus housing will be required to undergo COVID-19 entry testing as part of the check-in process and will not get their room keys until results are received. Other students are also encouraged to be tested.

Because of delays in the University of Illinois receiving federal emergency use authorization for its Shield Illinois test, ISU is shifting to antigen testing, which provides quicker results than the “gold standard” PCR test, said John Baur, ISU’s COVID-19 testing coordinator.

Dr. Christina Nulty, ISU’s student health medical director, said processing is done on site, with results available within about 30 minutes. Testing will be done at the former fire station near Cardinal Court and at three residence halls.

“We encourage anyone on campus to test twice a week,” Nulty said.

Starting Monday, on-campus testing also will be available for asymptomatic ISU faculty and staff, another change from fall semester. Faculty and staff have been requesting such testing but the university initially did not have the capacity to provide it, Nulty said.

What won’t be changing at either IWU or ISU is a continued mixture of online and hybrid classes.

Even if the number of COVID-19 cases drops dramatically, ISU spokesman Eric Jome said, “Once the semester is rolling … I don’t think we’re going to see any major pivot mid-semester.”

Most classes will be online at ISU, he said.

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Delivering classes remotely has been an “ongoing learning curve” and faculty members are adjusting as they learn what works best, said Jome.

To discourage travel, both universities eliminated spring break from the 2020-21 academic calendar.

Nulty said it’s not known when vaccinations will become available for students, but the university has a mass immunization planning committee developing procedures.

University of Illinois’ COVID-19 saliva test moves closer to FDA approval, but not fast enough to meet the demand: ‘Every school district in Illinois would love to have this’

Initial doses in Illinois are going to health care workers and residents and staff of long-term care facilities, followed by frontline essential workers and people over 65.

The vaccines have to be stored at extremely cold temperatures. ISU moved a special freezer from the Science Laboratory Building to Student Health Services in case it is needed for storage.

“We’re ready to help the county if they need it,” said Nulty.

Although there was an initial surge in coronavirus cases when students returned to campus last fall, the positivity rate on campus was lower than the community as a whole later in the semester.

“That shows they (students) were being responsible,” said Baur.

With the state, including McLean County, in the midst of a surge in cases, there is concern.

“A surge is a surge, whether it’s on campus or in the community,” said Nulty, and she hopes students act responsibly as they did last fall.

In a message to IWU students, Karla Carney-Hall, vice president of student affairs and dean of students, and Victoria Folse, director of nursing, reminded students of the threat to campus health posed not only by large social gatherings but also small gatherings where masks are not worn and physical distancing is not maintained.

“Party hosts and attendees may face a ban from all activities ... or suspension from the university,” if they participate in large gatherings, they said.

IWU will allow a 10-person maximum at university-sponsored events and non-class-related activities with mask wearing and physical distancing. It is providing online training to leaders of registered student organizations.


5 positive stories from Bloomington-Normal schools in 2020

5 positive stories from Bloomington-Normal schools in 2020

In 2020, local school districts were hit with many challenges in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here's a quick look at five stories of local schools giving us a reason to smile even when it's hard.

Contact Lenore Sobota at (309) 820-3240. Follow her on Twitter: @Pg_Sobota

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  • Updated

The McLean County Health Department reported five new COVID-19 related deaths Friday and added 222 new and probable cases. There have now been 121 deaths related to the coronavirus, and 12,361 probable and confirmed cases of the novel virus since March. There have been 772 new cases reported since Dec. 31.

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