UIUC students urged to limit activities as COVID-19 cases rise among staff

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URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) — Cases of COVID-19 among faculty and staff members at UIUC have increased enough to prompt Chancellor Robert Jones to send a mass mail urging students to be cautious.

In an email Tuesday morning, Jones said “cases are also increasing rapidly on our campus with the seven-day case positivity rate rising from 0.12% in mid-October to 0.62% today.”

WCIA 3 News spoke with Prof. Marty Burke, who is leading the Shield team effort. He said the university has not seen any evidence of the virus spreading within any of the campus environments or from students, faculty and staff to the surrounding community. However, the last few weeks have been challenging as the positivity rate has gone up throughout the state.

“We’re very concerned,” Burke said. “We’re also, of course, very concerned for our surrounding community, as I know everyone is as well. So we’ve now decided to do everything we can to try to go on offense.”

He said UI has launched what it’s calling a “SHIELD surge,” effective immediately. As part of the increased efforts to fight the spread of COVID-19, the university is now asking everyone affiliated with campus to return to testing twice per week. For the past several weeks, only undergraduate students had been asked to test twice weekly.

Burke said the university is also asking everyone to work from home if possible, and to limit their activities to what is considered essential only. SHIELD leaders are hoping to limit socialization for the next two weeks, ahead of Thanksgiving travel.

“We’re all looking forward to seeing our family and friends for Thanksgiving,” Burke acknowledged. “The best thing we can do for each other is to go home without COVID. So, we’re asking every student, every faculty, every staff member: two weeks. Do the most you can to be as safe as possible to protect yourself and to protect your family and friends when we get home for Thanksgiving.”

Burke also urged the UI community to push back against pandemic fatigue.

“We cannot let fatigue allow us to let our guard down when, unfortunately, the virus isn’t tired,” Burke said. “This is the brutality of this situation. The virus doesn’t get tired. So we just need to kind of lock arms in a figurative fashion and stand together and really kind of not let ourselves let our guard down because we’re fatigued. We just need to get more creative and innovative and careful and thoughtful and strategic.”

WCIA also spoke with several faculty, staff and graduate students who did not wish to be named about their activities during the fall semester. They each listed precautions they’ve taken, including limiting visitors to their homes, wearing masks in social settings outdoors, regularly getting tests and working from home.

One of the staff members who has worked remotely did express some concerns, however, about university-sanctioned athletic events that are still taking place not only at the University of Illinois, but at other NCAA Division 1 schools.

“As I primarily work from home and get tested according to University guidelines, I’m wondering how college football can continue to be justified as an essential activity.”

UI staff member

To learn about the university’s efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19, you can read the rest of the email sent out to faculty and staff below:

“We are experiencing a concerning increase in cases among our faculty and staff. On Nov. 6, the seven-day positivity rate for faculty and staff had tripled to 0.72%, slightly higher than that of the undergraduates (0.7%). This is driven by the dramatic increase in the cases in East Central Illinois during this time period. From contact tracing, we can determine that this is not due to classroom or on-the-job transmission. The spread is likely to be through your household or social contacts.

I know that we all have pandemic fatigue, and this toll is weighing on all of us. However, we strongly believe this is a critically important time period for the safety of our entire community, and we need everyone to be more diligent than ever. I am asking that you take the following precautions beginning immediately as part of the Shield Surge plan:

Test Twice Per Week
If you are currently participating in the on-campus COVID-19 testing program, please increase your testing frequency from once per week to twice per week, testing on Wednesday and Saturday or Wednesday and Sunday if possible. Please also test in the morning/early in the day if possible. Ensure you test and receive negative results at least every four days to maintain building access. Continue testing at this frequency until notified otherwise.

Work from Home if Possible
For the next three weeks, please work with your supervisor to plan to work from home unless your work requires you to be on campus. Our goal is to reduce campus density to protect those who handle in-person instruction and other work that must be performed on-campus.

Participate in Essential Activities Only
For the next three weeks, stay home as much as possible, leaving only for essential activities, such as in-person teaching and other work that must be performed on campus, COVID-19 testing, visiting the pharmacy and buying groceries.

Limit Travel & Gatherings
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other health experts tell us that gatherings and travel in and out of communities present a high risk of spreading the infection. In our current situation, with a rising prevalence in the surrounding regions, attending even small gatherings that mix households and traveling to and from the Champaign-Urbana area is not advised and is potentially dangerous. Please travel out of our community only if necessary. If you must travel, follow this travel guidance.

Thank you for your efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 in our community and for continuing to do your part to protect us all. I am so proud to be a part of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign community.

Sincerely,

Robert J. Jones
Chancellor

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