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Bradley University Plans Return To Traditional, In-Person Education in Fall 2021

Bradley University is planning a full return to traditional, in-person education in the fall 2021 semester-- assuming current COVID-19 trends hold.

“Bradley is committed to being fully back on campus in the fall, but the specifics are still being worked out,” said Bradley President Stephen Standifird in a prepared statement on Wednesday. “We plan to return to in-person learning as our primary delivery method, while following all federal, state and local guidelines, including those regarding masks, physical distancing, testing protocols, gathering sizes and any new guidelines that may be added.”

The campus positivity rate has hovered under 1% since students returned from winter break for the spring semester. That return included an initial two-week student campus quarantine, albeit with classes still conducted in-person for many students.

Peoria County's overall positivity rate was at 5.9%, as of Wednesday. The entire state is currently in Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois plan.

"If things stay as they are today, and that trend continues with regards to the declining numbers of positive cases, and the vaccination continues to roll out, then we feel confident we'll be able to do on-campus as the primary focus," university spokesperson Renee Charles said in an interview on Wednesday.

The university also redoubled its COVID-19 surveillance testing efforts this semester, with more than 400 tests now conducted each week.

This semester, about 60% of Bradley University classes are in-person. Less than a third of the undergraduate student population is currently learning remotely.

"We will be prepared to pivot if necessary, but our primary focus is trying to get back to that face-to-face, on-campus education," said Charles.

Charles said planning for the shift to more in-person learning is still ongoing.

"We do know that there will be some exceptions, so of course, we will continue to look at everything that's involved," she said.

Currently higher education falls into the 1C priority for COVID-19 vaccinations. That could still be quite a ways off. Illinois is still working through 1A and 1B that includes K-12 teachers, but not most higher education employees or students.

Peoria City/County Health Department Administrator Monica Hendrickson had predicted around two more months focusing on the 1B population before Gov. JB Pritzker announced he was expanding eligibilty of that already-large group to include people with comorbidities like cancer, diabetes, or obesity.

Tri-County health departments say they don't have enough supplies to expand the 1B eligibility with their current vaccine allocation--especially as the state is cutting back the number of first doses available as more patients receive second doses of vaccine. The health department projects receiving only 500 first doses in Peoria County for this week and next week--down from the usual 2,000.

"We're continuing to work very closely with the Peoria City/County Health Department, as well as the medical community in the region, to determine how we will best vaccinate our campus community when the time comes," Charles said.

She said it's still too early in that process to discuss any specifics of the vaccination plans, including whether or not the university will require COVID-19 vaccinations for faculty, staff, or students.

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