NORMAL, Ill. (WMBD) — Colleges are prepping for the return of students and for another year they’re confronting newly emerging COVID-19 variants.

The BA 5 variant is the number one variant in the United States and is highly transmissible. Marianne Manko at the McLean County Health Department said it’s also the number one variant of cases in Illinois.

“Right now McLean County is at high community level and that means we have a lot of community spread, but it also means our healthcare system is seeing enough people that are sick that it’s actually putting a burden on our healthcare system,” Manko said.

At Illinois State University (ISU), students begin moving in the week of August 15. Director of Media Relations Eric Jome said unvaccinated students will no longer be subjected to weekly testing regimens.

“The executive order on testing and vaccination was modified, exempting higher education,” Jome said.

Jome said testing options won’t be as extensive this year on campus and students are encouraged to bring at-home testing kits.

“SHIELD testing has wrapped up and that’s really statewide; U of I has wrapped up that program in most areas,” Jome said.

While SHIELD testing is no longer an option, Jome said there is still a testing center on campus providing rapid antigen tests, however, it’s undecided if it will return after July 29. If students experience symptoms when they get to school, they can contact the student health center.

Manko said BA 5 is highly transmissible and according to the CDC it accounts for 82% of all COVID cases nationwide.

“It evades immunity, natural immunity, so what we’re finding is people who have had COVID even a few weeks or months ago are getting re-infected pretty quickly,” Manko said.

If students are unvaccinated and wish to do so, Manko said it’s best to start the process sooner than later.

“That way they at least have some immunity when they get to school, and then they can always get that second dose nearby,” Manko said.

Students at ISU can expect a normal school year according to Jome. He says the university will monitor all COVID-19 trends with the state and local health officials.

“There are a lot of resources in place should things change and we do have to make modifications,” Jome said.