University COVID protocols praised; precautions increase for spring

A+group+of+students+eat+lunch+outside+of+the+SDRP+on+Sept.+13.+The+University+has+taken+measures+to+limit+the+spread+of+COVID-19+in+the+spring+semester.

Ryan Ash

A group of students eat lunch outside of the SDRP on Sept. 13. The University has taken measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 in the spring semester.

By Payal Rathore, Staff Writer

The University’s COVID-19 protocols were widely praised and have been continued for the new semester after the campus saw no hospitalizations or deaths in the fall. Various other universities have implemented similar testing processes, including UW-Madison. 

The University has taken many measures to curb the number of positive cases this semester including the cancellation of spring break.

“Travel outside of Champaign-Urbana is a big risk factor,” said Rebecca Lee Smith, associate professor of epidemiology. “Maintaining social distancing while traveling is not always possible and is often difficult. The same testing facilities and frequencies are also not available everywhere.”

The start of the spring semester had a much smaller spike in the number of positive cases compared to the fall. As per the SHIELD team testing data, the highest percentage of case positivity has been 0.83% on Jan. 5, 2021, compared to 2.86% on Aug. 30, 2020.

“We didn’t know what to expect in the fall,” said Smith with regard to the difference in the number of cases and positivity rates. “Lots of procedures are in place now which weren’t there earlier. Many students were also unclear about the COVID-19 protocols and disregarded wearing masks and social distancing.”

The effective handling of COVID cases can be credited to the two negative on-campus test results which were required between Jan. 15-24. The first test was used to indicate whether anything happened in the previous week, and the second test was used to check for any recent exposure that may have occurred while traveling.

Increased precautions have come into light with the recent Massmail sent by Chancellor Robert Jones on Jan. 20. The new precautions include participation in essential activities only until Feb. 8.

“This is an onboarding process which is a high-risk period because of which essential activities only are allowed,” Smith said. “Being more transparent about the consequences is also required as many people who were non-compliant with testing were also non-compliant with other precautionary measures such as social distancing and wearing masks.”

The Massmail specifically addresses the penalties for not complying with the protocols in place which includes losing access to University Wi-Fi, Zoom, Compass and other such resources.

As usual, everyone will have to continue practicing social distancing on campus and wearing face coverings in university spaces and facilities unless alone in a private space. Students are also required to follow the quarantine and isolation rules issued by the University.

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