Concerns of Illinois State University’s coronavirus testing plans were the central focus of the Board of Trustees meeting Friday morning. Members expressed concern about the university’s testing plans for the spring semester as well as the plans and process for quarantining both on-campus and off-campus students.
Plans currently include bringing the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign’s saliva-based testing to campus and having mandatory testing for student employees, students living in residence halls and students attending in-person and hybrid classes.
Since the Board of Trustees approved its current $3.3 million contract with Reditus Laboratories in mid-August, chemistry professor and leading coordinator for the saliva-based testing sites John Baur presented that only about $1.2 million of this testing has been conducted.
Baur also said that the plan is to have the saliva-based testing sites up and running by the end of this semester with the hope of having students getting tested when they arrive on campus for the spring semester.
“We plan to have the shield method in place by the end of this semester, probably [by] late November [or] December. So, when students come back in early January, we’ll have the ability to essentially do large scale testing,” Baur said.
Following this response, Board of Trustees Secretary Mary Ann Louderback questioned whether students would be required to get tested before coming back to campus for the spring semester.
“I guess I have a real problem with [us letting] students come back without being already negative. I mean I think we had a problem with that and that’s when I think the township gets a little uptight because students come back from vacation,” Louderback said.
ISU President Larry Dietz responded to this by saying that the university has the ability to do it once students arrive on campus and that other universities in the state are not doing it this way.
“I think it is very difficult to require that because there’s really no teeth in the requirement and other institutions in the state are doing what you are suggesting,” Dietz said.
Louderback said that the impact ISU students have on the surrounding community is large and the concern of having another spike is high, referring back to the spike that happened at the beginning of the fall semester.
“If we’re going to test them before they move in, that’s fine. But for the Town of Normal, I know Bloomington and Normal [were] very nervous when we came back in the fall and I don’t want to see that happen again,” Louderback said.
The discussion of the testing concerns then shifted to the university’s quarantine process and spaces.
Dietz said that the residence halls are at 50% capacity and many students living off-campus or at their permanent residences while a total of 5% of both the residence halls and off-campus apartment spaces are set aside as isolation and quarantine spaces. Dietz said the university decided to reach out to local hotels for help and to have more available isolation spaces if needed.
“During the spike in COVID-19 cases on campus and at a time when the CDC changes its recommendation to indicate that students testing positive should not be sent home, the university became concerned that it would not have sufficient spaces on campus to house students who were under quarantine,” Dietz said.
Members responded to this with questions about how the process works for both on-campus and off-campus students if they test positive, showing some concern for how the isolation spaces would impact the safety and health of non-ISU students staying in the hotels.
“These spaces that we would then be contracting for are on a particular floor and they are only for us. Those students are expected to stay in those spaces and not leave their rooms,” Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. Levester Johnson said.
The six-month contract between ISU and Connect Transit, COVID-19 effects on the operational budgeting plans for the 2021 and 2022 fiscal years and public concerns about the usage of Proctortrack were also brought up during the meeting.