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Although many nearby universities, including University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Illinois State University and University of Kentucky, are requiring students to get tested for COVID-19 or are offering free testing, SIU is not.
SIU Chancellor Austin Lane said the university cannot offer free testing or require tests because it does not have enough tests for everyone.
“In all fairness, we could not say everyone was going to be tested when they came back to campus because we quite frankly didn’t have the testing ability to be able to do that,” Lane said.
In an email sent to students on July 31, Lane encouraged students to get tested before coming to campus and to allow enough time to get results back before classes started.
“During the two weeks before classes, we also encourage you to minimize your contact with others by self-quarantining,” the email said.
Lane said the low number of reported cases at the university backs up the decision to not move all classes online.
“If you think about it, we had three cases,” Lane said. “So this notion that students were going to come back and bring back with them a positive test and not quarantine themselves is just not there.”
SIU reported three active cases last week and reported six active cases on Wednesday.
Sam Pavel, vice president of SIU’s faculty association and an associate professor of aviation management, said the university did not encourage professors to hold all lecture classes or classes without a lab or practical component online.
“The stance as far as I can tell that the university took was they’re leaving it up to individual departments and faculty members,” Pavel said. “So if a faculty member wanted to teach face-to-face and they could adequately have a room that could do social distancing, then it was allowed.”
Pavel said certain programs need to be held on campus, such as aviation and dental hygiene, or anything with a lab component.
“If you have a bunch of other students around and interacting in classes together and somebody gets infected […] that shuts down all these programs that have to be here,” Pavel said. “So why take that risk?”
Anna Wilcoxen, president of Graduate Assistants United, the union for graduate assistants, said many of the resources being offered to graduate assistants to help them with doing classes online vary from department to department.
“I think that that’s in large part due to the fact that our plans were so last minute in my opinion,” Wilcoxen said. “I think that we wasted precious time over the summer where [the administration] could have been making more progress toward adequate training for online pedagogy.”
Wilcoxen said they were lucky in their department to already have a 101 course that had been previously taught online, and their undergraduate director had taken courses on making online learning the best experience possible.
“Not every department has that opportunity, not every department has that advantage,” Wilcoxen said.
Wilcoxen said in the majority of the feedback they have received from GAs, “the main concern was protecting their health and safety by just getting them to be able to be online through this process that was put in place just a little over a month ago.”
Wilcoxen said they were already concerned about transparency from the administration regarding COVID-19 cases on campus when they knew SIU wasn’t doing mandatory testing across campus.
“The fact that SIU is not doing something like that was already raising red flags for me, in terms of number transparency because, as Donald Trump himself has said, ‘if we don’t test, then we don’t have cases,’” Wilcoxen said.
Wilcoxen said although posting case numbers on SIU’s website is a step in the right direction, but the U.S. as a whole lacks adequate testing and experts say cases are being significantly undercounted.
“I think that us not choosing to test our student population is a big problem. And that already in it of itself is going to lead [to] these reported numbers,” Wilcoxen said.
Wilcoxen said they wish there was testing at SIU in a similar way to what U of I is doing, where students are tested multiple times and there are testing sites around campus.
“We’re still trying to piecemeal everything together,” Wilcoxen said. “I can’t even get a straight answer about where testing is going to happen on campus at SIU.”
SIU’s coronavirus page said the university would have a plan in place for testing by the start of classes.
“We know that not all universities are requiring testing,” Lane said. “But, we know that most, like us are trying to partner with different health organizations to provide some testing and […] we are working with SIH to try and provide some testing for our students that may have symptoms.”
At U of I Urbana-Champaign, students living on campus or in town are required to get tested twice a week, according to the U of I COVID webpage.
Testing is free and can be done at testing stations around the campus. Students completed a survey before arriving on campus to determine times that worked best for them to get tested.
Test results are visible to the student on an app, called the Safer Illinois app. A QR code on the app allows students to access campus buildings based on their negative test result.
U of I has received 545 positive test results as of Aug. 24.
Students at U of I were also required to complete online COVID safety training by Aug. 24. Students were provided with a PPE kit after arriving at campus which included two masks, wipes, hand sanitizer, a thermometer and a clean key, a small metal item that allows people to open doors, press buttons and use pin pads without touching them.
At the University of Kentucky, all students living on or attending classes on campus were required to get tested between Aug. 3 and 22, according to its COVID-19 webpage.
UK started retesting students participating in fraternities and sororities on Aug. 23 and plans to retest other campus populations that may have higher exposure to the virus. As of Aug. 21, the campus has seen 249 positive cases.
Faculty and staff at UK are not required to be tested, but are able to get tested if symptomatic.
UK requires all faculty, staff and students who are on campus to do a daily self-assessment for possible symptoms, according to its website. An email with a reminder to complete the assessment is sent out daily.
Students are also provided with student wellness kits including masks, digital thermometers, hand sanitizers, and sanitizing wipes.
Illinois State University is offering free COVID-19 testing to all students at its campus, but is not requiring testing. So far, the campus has seen 410 positive tests as of Aug. 27.
Managing Editor Rana Schenke can be reached at [email protected]
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