08122020 loca covid4

The COVID-19 testing tent at First and Peabody in Champaign.

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URBANA — The University of Illinois plans to help distribute COVID-19 vaccines, but Chancellor Robert Jones cautioned that students may need to continue getting tested for at least another year.

At his virtual State of the University address Thursday, Jones said the UI would work with local partners to distribute vaccines.

“Certainly, in partnership with others in the community, we will be playing a role in the distribution of those vaccines in a very, very timely way, helping out wherever we can, utilizing our expertise and our facilities to help,” he said.

While Jones welcomed the swift development of a vaccine, he warned that it is “not going to be a panacea.”

“We fully anticipate based on what we’re hearing from health experts that it is not going to be some automatic switch that will be flipped, and automatically COVID-19 will disappear,” Jones said. “And so we will still have to continue to implement our very innovative ecosystem with the modeling and the contact tracing and the testing we believe for at least the next 12 months, if not beyond.”

Thus far, the UI’s saliva-based testing has cost about $16 million to set up and operate, Jones said.

Total costs for all expenses and lost revenue due to COVID-19 from March through the end of this calendar year is estimated to exceed $191 million, Jones said.

“This pandemic has been and will continue to be extremely costly,” he said.

The UI is making contingency plans for a reduction in state funding.

“The economic impact on our state is going to be massive as well,” Jones said. “We have to make contingency plans that include a significant reduction in state funding in the coming years.”

He compared it to the 2015-17 state budget impasse.

That “taught us a lot of valuable lessons about navigating very difficult financial times,” he said. “Although we’re not panicking ... we are making some strategic reductions right now. We’re working with the colleges and units to identify a combination of revenue growth opportunities, concurrent with spending cuts, that will let us protect our core missions.”

Jones also said that once it is safe to do so, in-person graduation ceremonies will be held for the classes that missed theirs.

“We plan to have graduations for the Class of 2020,” he said. “And we are still uncertain about the Class of 2021. But let me just say simply, we will definitely have a graduation for both of these classes as soon as is safe to do so.”

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