Campus, Sangamon County Communities Continuing COVID-19 Learning

UIS Interim Chancellor Karen Whitney said the campus community needs to “stay vigilant” in taking preventative measures against the COVID-19 epidemic.

As of UIS’s most recent available data from Oct. 22, the campus seven-day positivity rate is 0.32%. Out of 2,485 tests conducted in the most recent week’s worth of data, eight of those tests were positive.

Whitney, at Oct. 22’s weekly virtual COVID briefing for the campus, said the weeks since the spike in cases in late September have gone smoothly.

“I hope that was the only wake up call we’ll have this year,” Whitney said. “But it is a reminder to all of us of how important it is to not let our guard down.”

The day before the briefing, the CDC changed its definition of “close contact” with regard to the amount of contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. The CDC’s current contact tracing guidance considers a “close contact” as “any individual within 6 feet of an infected person for a total of 15 minutes or more” in a 24-hour period. Previously, any individual who spent 15 consecutive minutes in close proximity to an infected person was considered a “close contact”.

During the briefing, Dr. Rajesh Govindaiah, Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer of Memorial Health System, said he expects recommendations about safety and best practices to continue to be updated as the pandemic progresses.

“We haven’t known about this virus so long,” Govindaiah said. “We’re continuing to learn, and as we learn, we’ll continue to update based on our best knowledge.”

Beyond campus, Govindaiah said the health system is seeing more patients in the hospital now. As of Oct. 19, Sangamon County’s seven-day positivity rate is 7.8%, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

“For our community, our health systems, we are busier with COVID than at any point during the pandemic,” Govindaiah said. “That really worries us, because we see this kind of accelerating trend of increasing disease activity in our community. and that can very easily lead to a surge that then becomes very difficult to manage.”

Govindiah said he expects to see vaccine shipments beginning in January, with the vaccination process continuing into next fall.

For now, Whitney is still encouraging the campus community to wear masks indoors and maintain six feet of social distancing when possible.

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.