URBANA — The future of the University of Illinois’ comprehensive COVID-19 protocols are in flux ahead of the fall term.
Current students and staff heard that “the university has not yet made COVID-19 decisions for the Fall 2022 semester,” in a newsletter from the university’s COVID-19 executive steering committee.
One old rule recently melted away for in-person classes: Effective May 16, the masks are now optional in university classrooms.
Also gone are the “wellness support associates” stationed at campus buildings who checked if entrants had their “building access granted,” with their proof of vaccination submitted to the university system or a recent negative test. Entrants could show if their access was granted through an app.
During the summer term, “instructors may request students wear face coverings, but they cannot require them to do so,” university spokeswoman Robin Kaler said. “We continue to maximize safety through our vaccine mandate, improved HVAC systems in buildings and monitoring the spread of the virus through our testing program and digital compliance mechanisms.”
The UI kept its classroom mask requirement longer than the local school districts, after Gov. J.B. Pritzker removed the mandate for most indoor areas in the state at the end of February.
UI staff and students on campus who haven’t been granted a religious or medical exemption are still required to be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus; about 93 percent of students and employees are, according to the most recent count shared on the UI’s COVID-19 webpage.
Unvaccinated individuals working or learning on campus must test once a week to maintain access to university facilities, and masks are required in campus health care areas, like McKinley Health Center. But there’s no assurances on what protocols will last through next semester.
“We continue to monitor data and consult with public health experts,” Kaler said. “We’ll make those decisions closer to the start of the school year.”
Campus testing has steadily trailed off since students returned from spring break.
The weekly total of campus tests has dropped for seven of the last eight weeks, from more than 25,000 the week of March 20 to about 4,600 the week of May 15.
(Testers are now predominantly faculty and staff, with classes over.)
Due to lower testing demand, the UI made the Illini Union its only available testing site for students and employees last week.
Fewer tests make the data harder to analyze.
But last Sunday, the seven-day average positivity rate on campus tests climbed above 5 percent for the first time since January, back when the entire U.S. was grappling with a sudden surge of omicron cases.
On Monday, there were 588 active cases of COVID-19 in Champaign County and 14 residents hospitalized with the virus.
Champaign County has reported 738 new COVID-19 cases since last Monday.
Carle Health reported slight upticks in its number of COVID-19 patients; there were 40 in Carle system hospitals as of Monday. Thirty-two of those were in Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana, with the other eight at Carle’s BroMenn Medical Center in Bloomington.
One Urbana COVID-19 patient was in intensive care.