virus UI hand sanitizer

A worker assists with hand-sanitizer production at the University of Illinois' Integrated Bioprocessing Research Laboratory.

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URBANA — The University of Illinois’ Urbana campus is heavily involved in the nation’s effort to combat the coronavirus, including providing help with testing, prioritizing supercomputing resources, producing hand sanitizer and modeling the pandemic’s impact.

Illinois’ “flagship university system is here to help in any way possible, sharing its world-class resources to put this crisis behind us,” President Tim Killeen said in a statement.

Explaining his decision to issue a stay-at-home order, Gov. J.B. Pritzker cited the modeling of the virus by researchers in Chicago and Champaign, a reference to work by UI physicist Nigel Goldenfeld and bioengineering professor Sergei Maslov.

Their work indicated that strong mitigation efforts would be needed by April 1 to avoid overwhelming hospitals in Chicago.

“If this window is missed, the epidemic will get worse, and then strong mitigation/lockdown will be required after all, but it will be too late,” they wrote March 18 in their preliminary study.

Their model suggested that if action wasn’t taken, 7,445 people could die in Chicago by Sept. 1, but if action was taken, the death toll could be reduced to 1,151.

“As the epidemic develops along its inevitable exponential growth trajectory, it is equally inevitable that leadership will eventually be forced to implement lockdown,” they wrote. “Thus, if this is going to happen anyway, it should be taken as early as possible.”

The Urbana campus has contributed to in various ways, the UI noted in a news release:

— It has provided equipment, supplies and personnel from its labs to help with testing at Carle Foundation Hospital.

— Its Integrated Bioprocessing Research Laboratory is making and packaging hand sanitizer at industrial scale.

— Scholars at UI-Chicago are collaborating with Urbana faculty to design and make personal protective equipment, as well as sterilize it for re-use.

— And the National Center for Supercomputing Applications is partnering with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to prioritize data analysis initiatives, including those that could hasten development of new vaccines and anti-viral treatments.


Ben Zigterman is a reporter covering business at The News-Gazette. His email is, and you can follow him on Twitter (@bzigterman).

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