Central Illinois colleges plan for spring semester as COVID-19 infections rise

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PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Across Central Illinois, several colleges are planning ahead to combat the spread of coronavirus as cases continue to rise.

WMBD reached out to several higher education institutions to hear what their plan is to mitigate the spread of the virus.

The universities will continue to update these plans as circumstances change. WMBD will update any changes to these plans.

Illinois Central College

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: No changes have been made. See the full statement from Illinois Central College Communications and Media Relations Lead Coordinator Kayla Thompson below:

“At this time, Illinois Central College plans to begin the spring semester on the scheduled date of Tuesday, Jan. 18, welcoming students back both on-campus and online. To continue providing a safe on-campus environment, ICC is prepared to continue their vaccination/testing protocol for the spring semester and remains agile to adjust class formats according to state directives.”

Bradley University

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: No changes have been made. See the full statement from Bradley University Spokesperson Renee Charles below:

“Most students left mid-week last week, and the campus is actually closed Dec. 22 through Jan 2. So, there will be a very minimal number of students, staff, or faculty here after tomorrow to contend with any potential spread of COVID-19.”

“However, as for the spring semester, we continue to closely monitor the COVID-19 landscape, including announcements by other schools in Illinois that are planning to begin their spring semesters online. At this point, Bradley University is planning to begin spring term classes on Jan. 19, on campus, and in person.  January interim classes, which are set to begin on Jan. 3, will meet as originally scheduled.”

“We have learned that things change rapidly during this pandemic, so we are not making any significant changes to our plans until closer to the start of the semester. Until then, we will continue to meet as a Virus Team and monitor the developments.”

Illinois Wesleyan University

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: All students must test and notify the university if they receive a positive result. See the full statement from Illinois Wesleyan University Dean of Students Karla Carney-Hall below:

Students and families:

We hope you are having a wonderful winter break! As we monitor the Omicron variant and critical guidance about health, there are two things we ask of all students, in order to be proactive about returning to campus healthy:

  1. Get your booster:  If you are eligible for a booster shot, please get your booster prior to your return to campus (and ideally before you gather with family and friends for the holiday). Boosters are widely available and are helpful in mitigating the effects of the Omicron variant.  
  2. Test before returning to campus:  In order to avoid an early spring outbreak of COVID-19, we are asking ALL students to complete a non-rapid PCR COVID-19 test prior to returning to campus (regardless of symptoms). In our most recent communication, we stated that unvaccinated students must test and present with documentation; that has not changed. What has changed is the request that all students test, regardless of vaccination status, and notify Arnold Health Services if they test positive. At this time, we are not asking that you present your negative test results to AHS if you are fully vaccinated; however, please be prepared to submit your documentation upon request. A positive COVID test will delay your return to campus until your 10-day isolation period has ended. We know you are eager to get back to classes, but for the safety of our community and for your own health, please test before returning to campus. Together, we want to minimize the spike we have experienced at the start of previous semesters, especially important with the infectiousness of Omicron and increased travel and gatherings this year.

As you are making plans to be back at IWU, please remember that large crowds are problematic for the spread of COVID-19. Please help us prevent an outbreak by wearing masks, avoiding crowds, and testing any time you are symptomatic.  

Have a wonderful holiday! Be well!

Illinois State University

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: All Illinois State University courses will be held online between Jan. 10-21. See the full statement from Illinois State University President Dr. Terri Goss Kinzy below:

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,

As the winter break approaches and we look ahead to the spring term, we are taking a close look at Illinois State’s approach to the Coronavirus pandemic. The Omicron variant is spreading at unprecedented rates throughout Illinois, the nation, and the world, resulting in an overwhelming number of positive cases. In our planning efforts, we are working to anticipate the potential impacts of this highly transmissible variant on our campus community. Out of an abundance of caution, Illinois State will begin the Spring 2022 semester with two weeks of online teaching and learning.

Although this is not how any of us expected to begin the spring term, we must continue to make decisions that are in the best interest of the health and safety of our campus community. This decision, made in consultation with University leadership and shared governance partners, is based on the most recent scientific data available from public health and government officials to help us avoid last-minute disruptions to our academic environment.

As I have shared previously, vaccination is the best and most effective protection from COVID-19. Pfizer and Moderna booster doses for eligible, vaccinated individuals have been found to be especially effective. It is critical to know that while vaccinated individuals may still test positive, they are significantly less likely to have severe disease, require hospitalization, or die. Vaccination is even more essential in the fight against the Omicron variant.

Please review the following actions to start the Spring 2022 semester:

  • All courses will be delivered online between January 10-January 21. Some exceptions will be made on a case-by-case basis for a small number of specific courses. After January 3, students should regularly monitor their University email address and ReggieNet course pages for additional information.
  • Illinois State University offices and facilities will reopen as scheduled on January 3, 2022.
  • In-person teaching and learning will resume on Monday, January 24.
  • No member of the University community should return to campus if they have tested positive for COVID-19 until the appropriate isolation period has concluded.
  • Regularly scheduled events will continue with additional mitigation measures implemented where appropriate and feasible. If necessary, events will be subject to cancellation due to updated guidance or mitigation requirements.
  • Students:
    • All students, regardless of vaccination status, are required to provide a negative COVID-19 test administered by a healthcare provider, taken no more than 3 days prior to returning to campus facilities. Submit results to the secure Patient Health Portal. Students living in close proximity to campus may test at an on-campus testing site within the 3-day period before they return to campus, but appointment times will be limited.
    • Students who are on campus and who have not provided Student Health Services (SHS) with evidence of being fully vaccinated are required to participate in weekly on-campus, saliva-based, COVID-19 testing.
    • Students are also strongly encouraged to obtain and upload proof of a booster vaccine, when they become eligible. Submit booster records as soon as possible to the secure Patient Health Portal.
    • Students living in on-campus housing may return to their residence hall or apartment as previously scheduled. However, students are not required to return to campus during the two-week online instruction period, if all their classes are online. More information about spring move-in will be provided to on-campus students by University Housing Services prior to their arrival. As a reminder, the University is closed from December 23–January 2.
  • Faculty and Staff:
    • All faculty and staff, regardless of vaccination status, are required to schedule and take an on-campus SHIELD COVID-19 test as soon as possible upon returning to campus, but no more than one week after returning.
    • Faculty and staff who are on campus and who have not provided Student Health Services (SHS) with evidence of being fully vaccinated are required to participate in weekly on-campus, saliva-based, COVID-19 testing.
    • All faculty and staff are also strongly encouraged to obtain and upload proof of a booster vaccine when they become eligible. Submit booster records as soon as possible to the secure Patient Health Portal.

It is my hope that this updated approach to the spring semester will provide the least disruption possible to our academic environment during this uncertain time. I want to extend my most sincere appreciation for your flexibility and adaptability as we face yet another obstacle in our on-going battle against COVID-19. After so many months, soon to be 2 years, pandemic fatigue is understandable, but please make every effort to remain diligent in your approach to avoid COVID-19 as you enjoy time with family and friends in the coming weeks.

I hope you can find time to relax and recharge during this break period and wish you good health as we approach the new year. Lastly, for the most up-to-date information about the University’s approach to COVID-19, visit the Coronavirus website or email Coronavirus@IllinoisState.edu.

Heartland Community College

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: All students must test and notify the university if they receive a positive result.

“Some of the universities, they have on-campus housing. So that is a much different situation than Heartland as a community college,” said Steve Fast, director of public information for Heartland Community College.

In addition to the testing requirement, Fast said the college will also focus on mitigations including SHIELD testing, masking, vaccinations, and vaccine clinics.

“We’ve had a lot of luck with the measures that we took over the course of the fall semester. So we’re hoping to remain vigilant,” Fast said.

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