URBANA — As the University of Illinois tries to control the spread of COVID-19, two students and one fraternity have been suspended for coronavirus-related violations.
Another 119 students and 11 groups are under investigation, Dean of Student Support and Advocacy Stephen Bryan said Monday at the Senate’s executive committee meeting.
And some students who have tested positive have broken their isolation to try to retest and get a better result.
“The majority of his students who are on campus have bought into the commitment we have asked them to make,” Provost Andreas Cangellaris said Monday. “There is a minority that is not.”
Those who test positive are supposed to wait at least 10 days in isolation before getting tested again, Champaign-Urbana Public Health District Deputy Administrator Awais Vaid said.
But some, “for whatever reason, are going multiple times and getting tested in the hope that they will test negative,” he added.
Still, campus officials remained hopeful Monday that the spread of the virus would be limited.
“We’re not out of the woods yet,” Chancellor Robert Jones said.
“But we remain hopeful and optimistic that we will be able to achieve our core objectives — and that is to come back to some form of face-to-face education, with the primary purpose of keeping our faculty, our staff and our students safe.”
Since move-in began Aug. 16, the UI has conducted more than 126,000 tests, from which 679 unique cases have been found, according to the UI’s updated dashboard.
Physicist Nigel Goldenfeld, who has helped develop models of the coronavirus on campus, said there were 367 cases identified by the entry screening from Aug. 15 to 24, which includes last Monday when more than 17,000 people were tested and 79 cases were found.
His team developed three models to estimate how many cases would be found on entry. The first predicted 198 cases, with a 95-percent confidence range from 72 to 414. The second predicted 270 cases, with a minimum of 180 and a maximum of 360. The third predicted 189 cases, with a minimum of 149 and a maximum of 230.
"The numbers from SHIELD are within the estimates of method 1 and 2, and without Aug. 24, within or very close to all estimates," Goldenfeld said, referring to the UI's testing and tracing program. "Without SHIELD, we would not have known about these cases and the public health officials would not have been able to move quickly."
But after the entry screening, there have been 318 more cases.
"This number is higher than we would like," Goldenfeld said.
Eighty people with COVID-19 are using isolation beds, spokeswoman Robin Kaler said, and 93 are still available on campus. Two people have completed their isolation. Another 47 people with possible exposure to the coronavirus are using UI quarantine beds, and 228 beds are still available. Twenty-six people have completed quarantine.
Off campus, about 179 students are in isolation, and about 223 are in quarantine, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Danita Brown Young said.
If the UI does have to return to online-only classes, Jones insisted data would drive the decision.
“It will be the data that drives us to make an alternative decision, if we have to,” Jones said.
Asked later what thresholds the UI has for moving to online-only education, officials weren’t specific but said they were looking at the state’s county and regional metrics, such as case clusters, hospitalizations and surge capacity. Right now, Champaign County is exceeding the target level of 50 new cases per 100,000 people, at 124.
“That was expected when students came in,” Vaid said. “That was expected when people came back from vacation.”
He said that if the UI starts to approach some of the other target levels, “we will start making recommendations and changes and not really wait until we have breached some of those thresholds.”
In addition to requiring everyone on campus to test twice a week, the UI is requiring face masks and checking people’s campus building entry status on the Safer Illinois smartphone app.
More than 39,000 people have downloaded the app, Kaler said, but it’s unclear how many have turned on the exposure-notification feature because the app focuses on privacy and doesn’t report that data to the UI.
UI officials said tests were taking longer than usual to process last week, as there wasn’t an even distribution of testing throughout the week. To help, the UI sent a mass email encouraging students to do more testing on Wednesdays and the weekend. It’s also working on ways to speed up the test, with new robotics in the lab and a smaller test tube.
On Sunday, volunteers were encouraged to drool into two test tubes at one location to provide data for a validation study on the smaller tubes.
“They’re adding robotics and other means through which the process can be expedited and more automated, so that the turnaround time that we have is … a few hours rather than taking more than 24 hours,” Cangellaris said.
He compared the UI’s efforts to building a plane while flying.
“These things are happening as we speak,” he said. “We do believe that by the end of this week, we’ll have made significant improvement there with … a new way of collecting the saliva samples and the robotics. And we look forward to the week after that to pretty much be … at steady state.”
(Editor's note: This article has been updated with comments from UI physicist and COVID-19 modeler Nigel Goldenfeld.)