CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Officials at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign said Wednesday they are ramping up efforts to identify and discipline any students who are hosting parties or otherwise violating coronavirus health guidelines after a spike in new COVID-19 cases on campus.
Testing since classes began on August 24 identified more than 400 new cases of COVID-19, according to a statement, and the number of positive cases since has, “increased at a rate that is on track to double the number of cases every week.”
Researchers and school officials have hoped the university’s “Shield” testing program, which has students take rapid saliva-based tests twice a week, would detect any potential outbreaks early.
“It really does serve kind of as the canary in the mine if you will to let us know things are going in the wrong direction,” University of Illinois Chancellor Robert J. Jones said during a Zoom press conference Wednesday.
If the trends continued, the university estimates there could be as many as 8,000 positive cases over the course of the semester, and 300-400 people added to quarantine every day.
“The irresponsible and dangerous actions of a small number of our students has created the very real possibility of ending an in-person semester for all of us,” Jones said.
University officials said the spike in new COVID-19 cases on campus came after a “number of students” participated in large parties and gatherings last weekend, in addition to some students ignoring public health orders to self-quarantine after they tested positive.
While the “vast majority” of students have been compliant with health guidelines, Jones said over the next two weeks they will be looking for students who violate them by sending staff to monitor nearby gatherings and asking students to submit tips through an online form. Anyone who hosts a party will face “immediate suspension.”
So far, the university said more than 100 students and several organizations are facing some form of discipline for their actions, and two students were suspended.
“We’re going to work very very hard in these next weeks to identify those individuals who are putting this semester at risk, and we’re going to give them the choice of complying with the rules or simply leaving the university,” Jones said.