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A quick look around at university COVID-19 testing

Thursday, Aug 20, 2020

* Illinois State University

ISU on Monday began surveillance testing for asymptomatic students at two sites on campus. There were 259 tests administered on campus on Monday and Tuesday. There were three positive results from Monday’s testing, with Tuesday’s full results still pending as of Wednesday afternoon, spokesman Eric Jome said.

* University of Illinois

The UI saliva test uses a small amount of saliva drooled into a sterile test tube that yields results in hours, even at high-testing volumes, the UI said.

The university has performed more than 50,000 of these saliva tests since making walk-up testing available to faculty, staff and students in July, and expects to ramp up to 20,00 tests a day when the fall semester starts Monday.

* Northern Illinois University

Illinois State University and Southern Illinois University are providing free COVID-19 testing on campus. Other universities, such as Northern Illinois University, are requiring their students to pay for their tests.

NIU wants its students to go to Illinois community-based testing sites to get their tests.

* Southern Illinois University

SIU refuses to release the numbers of COVID-19 cases on campus and student employees in housing have been told they could lose their jobs if they tell anyone about cases, according to resident assistants.

University spokeswoman Rae Goldsmith said any positive cases associated with the university are reported by the Jackson County Health Department. The university will not report these cases independently, she said.

No federal or state law prevents the university from releasing the information, experts say, and other Illinois and national universities are releasing their case counts.

When the Jackson County Health Department sends out a release regarding the case count for the day, it does not specify location or whether the person attends SIU or lives in the dorms.

* Western Illinois University

[WIU Interim President Martin Abraham] says WIU is planning a testing protocol for all students and staff.

“So that students will get tested. Faculty and staff will get testing as well on some sort of regular basis. But, if we do have an outbreak it all depends on where it is. It depends on who that student has been in contact with. Clearly, if a student develops symptoms, is tested as positive that student will go into isolation.”

* Eastern Illinois University

7.5% positivity rate; 45.2 recent average daily cases per 100,000. The school’s website says it is offering free testing to new students beginning Wednesday; and then for returning students starting next Monday, Aug. 24 – the day that students begin classes.

* Chicago State University

3.9% positivity rate; 9.0 recent average daily new cases per 100,000 over the past week.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Smalls - Thursday, Aug 20, 20 @ 11:22 am:

    This is not Illinois, but I share it as I think it will be similar with Illinois universities. Notre Dame has approximately 8,600 students. Over the last three days, their cases have been 89, 73 and 75 positive cases. So they are about 1% of their student body testing positive per day. To put that in perspective, that is like the U.S. having over 3 million positive cases per day. These universities are not going to last long.

  2. - Former Downstater - Thursday, Aug 20, 20 @ 11:22 am:

    Cripes, SIU. What are you doing?

  3. - Groundhog Day - Thursday, Aug 20, 20 @ 11:23 am:

    Excepting UI, these plans are not designed to succeed at containing COVID.

  4. - striketoo - Thursday, Aug 20, 20 @ 11:24 am:

    What a hodgepodge of approaches to a deadly serious issue. This clearly makes the case for consolidating all of our state universities under the University of Illinois in the Wisconsin fashion. Doing so would also save millions each year in administrative costs when such savings are urgently needed.

  5. - Smalls - Thursday, Aug 20, 20 @ 11:25 am:

    And kudos to U of I on the only thorough plan on here. They may be the only school that succeeds in keeping students on campus.

  6. - Mandymae - Thursday, Aug 20, 20 @ 11:39 am:

    ==They may be the only school that succeeds in keeping students on campus.==
    They’re also the only one that remotely has the means to test appropriately. Agreed some of the other universities’ plans are underwhelming, but they weren’t exactly given much to work with.

  7. - Not a Billionaire - Thursday, Aug 20, 20 @ 11:39 am:

    Some reporters need to FOIA SIU . Iowa State had 2 % positive so close to ND. That may be the active rate range Inn the Midwest… college openings are an inevitable disaster.

  8. - Fairycat - Thursday, Aug 20, 20 @ 11:40 am:

    Interesting to think how this would be coordinated under the U of I System’s leadership. I think we would have a much better shot of having an in-person year across the state if all schools were under that umbrella.

  9. - Morningstar - Thursday, Aug 20, 20 @ 11:41 am:

    It really feels like too many of these institutions took a “wait-and-see” approach, which seems to have morphed into a “not our jurisdiction” approach - placing the burden of providing a safe workplace and student residence halls on others. Transparency in sharing data is also lacking - with more than one university deferring reporting to their respective public health department, which of course can report positive results only for those individuals who provide an address for their residence in that county. A statewide call for uniformity and transparency in a form of central reporting - aka long-term care centers requirements to report to IDPH - would be welcome particularly in the communities hosting these institutions. The decisions made (and not made) by leadership at these institutions have the potential for explosive trends.

  10. - Blue Dog Dem - Thursday, Aug 20, 20 @ 11:43 am:

    I am afraid this tells me more about SIUC than i might have imagined.

  11. - Lefty Lefty - Thursday, Aug 20, 20 @ 11:46 am:


    Do not send your kids back to any Illinois university other than UIUC.

    What an incredibly inadequate response to the situation by the other schools.

  12. - Not a Billionaire - Thursday, Aug 20, 20 @ 11:52 am:

    WIU was thinking of not requiring masks in the computer labs because they would keep the users 6 feet apart. What lefty said is….right.

  13. - Smalls - Thursday, Aug 20, 20 @ 11:53 am:

    And I am also very eager to see what the enrollment numbers for the directional universities that should be released in the next few weeks. Probably not going to be good.

  14. - Not a Billionaire - Thursday, Aug 20, 20 @ 11:56 am:

    Oh Ivan corrected WIU was going to let you drop the mask in class if you are 6 feet away. I am tempted to say you can use your degree from these places in the next shortage …..but I wknt.

  15. - illinifan - Thursday, Aug 20, 20 @ 11:57 am:

    Congrats to UIUC. Love that the testing is also being linked to the students Illinois app so they can get the results quickly. Now to ramp this up and offer throughout Illinois

  16. - results - Thursday, Aug 20, 20 @ 11:59 am:

    I really wish UIUC would release the results of their testing. Have they really had no one test positive?

    Perhaps it’s out there. I’d appreciate a link if someone has seen something I haven’t seen.

  17. - 47th Ward - Thursday, Aug 20, 20 @ 12:03 pm:

    Surveillance testing of asymptomatic students is a public relations strategy, not a containment plan. Contact tracing is critical.

    If students receive a negative test, that only indicates they were negative at that point in time. Unless you can do this broadly and repeatedly, it is not terribly efficacious at limiting outbreaks. It also can give students a false sense of well being, such that they may be more inclined to partake in risky activities.

    Any student with symptoms should be tested, isolated and have all of their contacts traced, and some of those contacts should be tested, like room mates or class mates. Instilling a culture of healthy behavior is the key. Maintain social distance, wear masks and limit your exposure to large groups. And wash your hands relentlessly.

    Testing asymptomatic students is a waste of resources.

  18. - @misterjayem - Thursday, Aug 20, 20 @ 12:20 pm:

    “SIU refuses to release the numbers of COVID-19 cases on campus and student employees in housing have been told they could lose their jobs if they tell anyone about cases”

    It appears that “denial” isn’t just a river in Little Egypt.

    – MrJM

  19. - Keyrock - Thursday, Aug 20, 20 @ 12:22 pm:

    I’m also curious how it is going/will go for Northeastern, Northwestern, U. Of C., Roosevelt, etc.

  20. - Our Joe - Thursday, Aug 20, 20 @ 12:30 pm:

    Blue, hate to say it but always seems to be SIUCs approach to just about anything negative or controversial on the campus. Hasn’t worked before and it really won’t work in a pandemic. Daily Egyptian will get the numbers FOIAd soon enough.

  21. - Ducky LaMoore - Thursday, Aug 20, 20 @ 12:36 pm:

    Great…. My niece is at SIUC. I wonder for how long.

  22. - Pot calling kettle - Thursday, Aug 20, 20 @ 12:53 pm:

    ===Testing asymptomatic students is a waste of resources.==

    Recent modeling by Yale researchers differs from your conclusion & supports the UofI approach.

    “In this modeling study, symptom-based screening alone was not sufficient to contain an outbreak, and the safe reopening of campuses in fall 2020 may require screening every 2 days, uncompromising vigilance, and continuous attention to good prevention practices.”

  23. - Lt Guv - Thursday, Aug 20, 20 @ 12:54 pm:

    NIU - do better(prohibited punctuation here).

  24. - Quenton Cassidy - Thursday, Aug 20, 20 @ 12:57 pm:

    Do we really believe the universities believe they can get through the academic year, or any significant portion of it, without going fully remote? I wonder.
    Is it not more likely they postured/publicly planned for in-person or hybrids, so as to better rationalize why students needed to return to dorms? Housing and food contract revenue is a necessary component of these institutions’ budgets. It is much easier to justify the required return of students to campus if the plan is to put them physically in the classrooms.

  25. - @lefty - Thursday, Aug 20, 20 @ 1:03 pm:

    UIS & UIC are under the U of I umbrella and they also have entrance testing and weekly testing for all students on campus…

  26. - Fighter of Foo - Thursday, Aug 20, 20 @ 1:11 pm:

    I went to a directional school. Honest question, how will all these survive? And should they? My senior and his friends follow the trend like many in Illinois. If you can’t get into U of I, they are all out of state applicants.

  27. - 47th Ward - Thursday, Aug 20, 20 @ 1:20 pm:

    Thanks PCK,

    There are 500,000 undergraduate students in Illinois. The hypothetical study you cited estimates the cost per student per semester of testing every two days would be $470. That’s $235 million to do this for every undergraduate student in Illinois this fall.

    I don’t think anyone has the capacity to process this many tests. Hypothetical models are helpful, but I’m not convinced by your link that my point is wrong.

  28. - Pot calling kettle - Thursday, Aug 20, 20 @ 1:21 pm:

    ==Do we really believe the universities believe they can get through the academic year, or any significant portion of it, without going fully remote?==

    I think it is possible; I’m not sure it is likely.

    The UofI testing plan is good. But what is the messaging to students? Students want F2F instruction and they want to be on-campus. How well is the university communicating to students that to get what what they want from the university is largely dependent on their behavior. The university purports to prepare its students not only in their academic subject area but with personal and professional life skills. Universities need to emphasize to students that individual actions have broad implications, and the response of students to COVID is an excellent example.

    To that end, testing & tracing, and then communicating testing results and linking them directly to campus responses (F2F courses, dining options, student activities, etc.) is key. When students can connect the dots and are given clear goals and the means to achieve them, the likelihood campuses will remain open are much better.

    Administrators often like to hide bad news; in this case, hiding bad news is more likely to lead to more bad news (how can people change their behavior if they cannot see its impact) and eventual closure.

  29. - SIUE - Thursday, Aug 20, 20 @ 1:22 pm:

    I googled and found SIUE isn’t conducting entrance testing but I wonder if they will report their on campus numbers or are they not allowed to report them, too?

  30. - Macombie - Thursday, Aug 20, 20 @ 1:27 pm:

    WIU faculty just won in a hearing before the IL Education Labor Relations Board.
    The ELRB voted unanimously siding with the faculty union over the WIU administration. The decision prompts the AG to seek injunctive relief for the faculty from/against the university.

  31. - ZC - Thursday, Aug 20, 20 @ 1:47 pm:

    I’m rooting for Urbana Champaign, but so skeptical.

    To have a chance of success at this, you need frequent, endless testing (check) and an environment where students aren’t typically tempted to go off to a big city and party (check) but you may also need a “bubble” where everyone is really on the same campus, in all student dorms, with no offcampus parties. That last in part helped bring down Notre Dame, and I just don’t know.

  32. - n-t-c - Thursday, Aug 20, 20 @ 2:24 pm:

    ===Excepting UI, these plans are not designed to succeed at containing COVID.===

    Why can’t these other universities delay their restarts a few weeks until they are able to implement the testing protocol developed at U of I?

    Even administrators who don’t care about lives and permanent health impairments should be able to do the math and figure out that the cost to build a lab, buy the testing equipment and materials, and train up lab technicians and a director will be an order of magnitude less than sending everyone home in 21 days and dealing with the follow-on litigation.

  33. - Last Bull Moose - Thursday, Aug 20, 20 @ 2:31 pm:

    Frequent testing with rapid analysis reduces the numbers of people contact tracing needs to chase. This gives us a chance to slowly throttle this disease.

  34. - Smalls - Thursday, Aug 20, 20 @ 2:35 pm:

    It might seem like I was picking on ND in my earlier post. I actually want to give them kudos. Every university should be as transparent as they are. They have a COVID dashboard that looks similar to the state and county ones we have become accustomed to seeing. I’m sure there are some, but I have looked at about 15 other major universities, and not one has this level of transparency.

  35. - DownSouth - Thursday, Aug 20, 20 @ 2:44 pm:

    Was engaged in two conversations this am with vastly varying viewpoints on the SIU-C situation. Both were on staff there. One’s take was that SIU has no need to make that info public, that anyone who should know does. The rest is just fear mongering. The other person’s take was “SIU is NOT handling this at all well. I am highly uncomfortable coming in to work everyday. I do not feel I am in safe environment, or that I am being told at a campus or departmental level what my current risk might be or what’s really happening here.”

    This is compounded by SIU’s assertion/insistence that Jackson County HD reports the numbers - no, they don’t differentiate SIU cases in their press releases, and Jackson county would not capture those students and staff living in surrounding counties.
    SIU-C doesn’t look so great at the moment.

  36. - DownStateR - Thursday, Aug 20, 20 @ 3:00 pm:

    The others don’t have a plan like UIUC’s because they don’t have access to such affordable and available/accessible testing. Regular tests are still tied up in a procurement Wild West situation (hard to get altogether) and they usually cost over $100 per test compared to UIUC’s at $10 a pop. And likely all the public universities will hop on to the UIUC program as soon as they can but they have been told that is likely 2-3 MONTHS from now… not weeks.

  37. - Dutch3001 - Thursday, Aug 20, 20 @ 4:00 pm:

    I work at SIUC. Coronavirus-related information from the upper administration such as what to do if a student refuses to wear a mask, etc., only began appearing the week BEFORE the fall semester started. Slightly more information has appeared this week. It makes you wonder what the SIUc upper administrators were doing all summer that they could not see this situation coming and develop DETAILED plans to deal with it rather than doing everything on the fly the week before school opens.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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