SIU-C staff call fall COVID guidelines a “balancing act” amid rising case numbers

Southern Illinois University at Carbondale (SIU-C) has not joined the wave of colleges mandating vaccinations for COVID going into the Fall 2021 semester.

Kim Rendleman, the executive director of university communications and marketing at SIU-C, said the university’s guidelines requiring masks for everyone on campus, and a program for cleaning high traffic areas are in line with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH).

“I’m really happy that they came out with the mask mandate. That, to me, is extremely important,” Student Adviser Jean Miner said. “We also are giving students the option to do a zoom appointment, as opposed to coming in understanding that students may also have that kind of hesitancy.”

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SIU-C also launched a “Protect the Pack” program which offers prizes and incentives for people who have been fully vaccinated.

“I think that the frequent testing, especially in the residence halls, and the asking of the questions, and trying to do the surveys of where people are, I think that those are all, to me, indicators that people are being very attentive to what’s going on here,” Brown said.

According to a Jackson County Public Health (JCPH) press release on August 11, the county recorded 115 positive COVID cases, breaking the previous single day record set in November of 2020.

“There are cases rising across the country and our area, and you’ll notice the map of the CDC has said our area’s one of high transmission,” said Rendleman. “That makes the need for vaccination all the more urgent, so we’re going to continue to promote vaccination.” JCPH Administrator Bart Hagston said the department has advised SIU-C officials on COVID measures.

“Things we are concerned about, though, are the increased number of students, and the number of variants including the delta variant,” Hagston said.  

SIU-C has not required students or staff to be vaccinated despite increasing numbers of other universities and public institutions around the US doing so.

At least 20 universities in Illinois have implemented a vaccine mandate, and Gov. JB Pritzker ordered vaccines be required for staff at state facilities like jails and veterans’ homes. 

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Some SIU-C faculty and staff members called the decision to require masks, but not vaccinations, a “balancing act,” weighing the safety of the student population against the difficulties of taking classes remotely. 

“I think the guidelines reflect what I consider to be the basic premise of all society, which is to strive for the common good,” said Joseph Brown, a professor in the Department of Africana Studies at SIU-C.

Brown said many of his students experienced difficulties with poor internet, and trouble with at-home responsibilities pressing into what would normally be uninterrupted work time. 

Peter Owens, a graduate assistant at SIU-C, said distanced education has also made teaching difficult, as it’s severely limited the array of options instructors have for engaging students.

“As we all have discovered, doing remote communication is more taxing than being in the same room as someone,” Owens said. 

Owens also said working remotely had changed his relationship with technology, adding stress or unease at times that, in the past, would have been fun or relaxing. 

“We’ve underestimated the stress that puts on us when we must constantly face the fact that we are being watched,” Owens said. “If I use a screen to escape or to recreate and that screen suddenly starts looking back at me and having expectations of me, that’s going to mess up how I use the screen to recreate in normal times.” 

Owens said that while he’s excited to be returning to in-person teaching, he’s still apprehensive about the possibility of spreading COVID in class.

“I am equal parts feeling quite excited and feeling a significant amount of apprehension,” Owens said. “I’m not the reason that a disease is transmitted to someone who gets it and has a really negative health outcome or heaven forbid passes away. That’s another thing I’ve never had to think about before.”

Staff reporter Jason Flynn can be reached at jflynn@dailyegyptian.com, by phone at 872-222-7821 or on Twitter at @dejasonflynn. Staff reporter Joel Kottman can be reached at [email protected] To stay up to date with all your southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

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