“Blips in the Radar”: Increased COVID-19 Positivity Rate at UIS

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Photographs courtesy of www.illinoistimes.com

A month and a half into the fall semester, UIS’ seven-day COVID-19 positivity rate is around six times higher than it was a month ago. However, Bethany Bilyeu – executive director of Student Support Services overseeing COVID tests on campus – said she does not believe that the uptick is much cause for concern.

“We’ve been living with COVID now for many, many months,” Bilyeu said. “We have to remind ourselves that we need to stay physically distant from one another, we need to keep our masks on and we need to sustain that for [the] long term.”

            On Sept. 15, the campus’ seven-day positivity rate was 0.17 percent. According to the university’s most recent publicly-available data as of Oct. 8, that rate has increased to 1.01 percent. That increase came in the wake of 18 students testing positive for COVID-19 early in the week of Sept. 28. According to an email from interim Chancellor Karen Whitney sent to students and staff of the university on Oct. 2, those positive tests were traced back to multiple “social gatherings at which attendees were not wearing masks or social distancing.”

            Bilyeu said that a disciplinary process is being used for students who violate university policies around COVID-19. She added that people on campus have generally been adhering to requirements such as weekly testing.

“We know that we’re going to have blips in the radar,” Bilyeu said. “I think we just need to steady the course.”

            The university has a list of mitigation strategies and thresholds for potential action posted on its website, and decisions on whether to take action are made by the UIS COVID-19 Rapid Response Team, which includes members Bilyeu and Whitney.

“We’re able to really identify if we’ve got any trends that we need to pay attention to, and anything where we need to implement mitigation strategies,” Bilyeu said. “In general, we’re doing pretty good [as a campus].”

            At a virtual briefing on Oct. 8, Whitney said that while shutting down campus is an option which university leadership is prepared to take, other mitigation strategies have helped to bring case numbers down.

“We’re seeing good efforts in bringing things down without having to shut down the entire campus,” Whitney said.

            Whitney continues to hold weekly online briefings on Thursday afternoons about the university’s COVID response. Past briefings are available to view on the UIS website. As of Oct. 6, the university has conducted 11,644 COVID-19 tests since the week prior to the start of the fall semester. All faculty, students and staff who live or work on campus, along with those working remotely who visit the campus, are still required to take part in the weekly testing.