Campus Officials Make Changes as Regional Restrictions Begin

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Photographs courtesy of www.turnto23.com

As Springfield prepares for COVID-19 mitigation measures to go into effect, UIS campus officials say classes will still be able to meet in person until the final weeks of the fall semester. Under Illinois Department of Public Health criteria, regions can have mitigation measures automatically put into place if a region’s seven-day positivity rate crosses 8 percent for three consecutive days. As of Monday, Region 3 – which includes Springfield and Sangamon County – has a positivity rate of 8.8 percent, which means mitigation measures will go into effect in the region starting this Sunday.

            The measures, among other restrictions, mean that bars and restaurants will not be allowed to provide indoor service and can only stay open until 11 p.m. Although university campuses are excluded from these measures, the university is still making some changes to its operations as the mitigation measures are implemented. Under current plans, classes will still not go fully online until late next month, according to Bethany Bilyeu, the executive director of Student Support Services who oversees COVID tests on campus.

“Between now and then, as long as things don’t indicate to us that we should change our current path, we will stay [on] the current path,” Bilyeu said during the university’s weekly virtual COVID-19 briefing.

            Changes to other aspects of campus operations, according to Bilyeu, include limiting student group gatherings to 25 people or 25 percent of gathering space capacity and further limiting in-person seating for Student Union dining. UIS Interim Chancellor Karen Whitney had also cautioned campus community members about attending Halloween social gatherings, especially in the wake of increased positivity rates off campus.

“We love Springfield, we love the city, the county, the region,” Whitney said. “But at this point, we have to be very aware of where we are, because our community’s positivity rate is very concerning.”

            Per the university’s most recent available data from Oct. 29, UIS has a seven-day positivity rate of 0.46 percent. Out of 2370 tests conducted in the most recent week of data, 11 tests came back positive. Students, staff and faculty also had the chance to raise their concerns about potential changes to the spring semester calendar prior to final decisions being made. Whitney said she supports changes that would reduce the possibility of campus community members traveling and getting infected.

“I can’t, as Chancellor, support a calendar that would lead me to believe that the calendar would enable more people to get sick rather than not,” Whitney said.

            Attention was directed in particular toward Spring Break.

“If you take that traditional week off, which is almost a national holiday, it seems everyone kind of travels and celebrates, and we know that that’s the case,” Bilyeu said. “That’s a high-risk opportunity to have that whole week off, to provide people that opportunity to travel.”

            The Campus Senate voted earlier this month in favor of a resolution that would split those vacation days into two smaller blocks during the semester. But Whitney says that the final decision on the spring schedule will be made by the end of this week. The Chancellor continues to hold weekly briefings each Thursday at 1 p.m. about the university’s COVID-19 response. Recordings and FAQs for each week’s briefing are available on the chancellor’s section of the UIS website.