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WGLT's reporting on the coronavirus pandemic, which began in McLean County in March 2020.

ISU Student COVID Cases Rise To 50+ As County Sets New Record

Social distancing sign
Eric Stock
A sign encourages social distancing to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

UPDATED 5:30 p.m. | Over 50 Illinois State University students have now tested positive for COVID-19, including dozens in just the past week, university officials said Wednesday.

Those cases include seven students who were tested on-campus between Aug. 1 and Monday, plus 31 student-athletes who tested positive in the past week. Those students, plus other confirmed cases from over the summer, mean at least 54 students have tested positive to date. (ISU says it plans to launch a public, online dashboard to share current numbers.)

The rising cases at ISU are reflected in the latest data from the McLean County Health Department (MCHD), which reported 51 new cases countywide on Wednesday. That's a new single-day record. That's the the third time in the last week the county has set a new daily record. The county's testing positivity rate also jumped, to 2.7%.

Of those 51 new cases, more than half involved younger people, according to MCHD. Twenty-six of the cases involved people ages 10-19, and 13 cases include people in their 20s. One case involves a child under age 10.

MCHD Administrator Jessica McKnight said more young people and college students are getting tested for the coronavirus as they return to school, but she said the county continues to see large numbers of cases from gatherings, household contacts and off-campus activities. 

“Even young healthy individuals can have complications from the virus, and some may even need to be hospitalized,” McKnight explained. “Everyone is at risk for getting COVID-19 if they are exposed to the virus. Every interaction with persons outside your household should be treated as a risk for transmission.”


College cases and testing

The fall semester at ISU began Monday. There have already been several cases, plus a warning from ISU President Larry Dietz to avoid large off-campus parties.

ISU expanded free testing this week to all students, regardless of whether they have symptoms. It's also trying to bring a cheaper, saliva-based testing method to campus.

There are currently two testing sites for asymptomatic ISU students. In total, 259 students were tested at those locations Monday and Tuesday. Of the tests conducted Monday, three students came back positive. (Data is not yet available for Tuesday's results or anything from Wednesday.)

"As our surveillance testing efforts increase, we anticipate that there will be an increase in positive cases as more tests will be conducted," said ISU spokesperson Eric Jome.

Students with symptoms can be tested at Student Health Services. There were four positive results from 73 tests conducted between Aug. 1-14. More recent data was not available.

There are currently seven students in isolation in on-campus housing. Students in those spaces are delivered fresh meals daily as well as a supply of snacks and treats.

Separately, ISU Athletics Director Larry Lyons said 40 student-athletes have tested positive since mid-summer. That includes 31 positives in this week's batch of 264 tests, suggesting a positivity rate of 11.7%. (ISU Athletics had previously disclosed four positive tests.)

As a result, ISU Athletics has suspended all activities in five sports: football, soccer, volleyball, and men's and women's basketball.

Eight ISU faculty and staff have reported their own positive cases to ISU's Human Resources since Aug. 1, Jome said. Faculty and staff are directed to follow quarantine and isolation protocols as appropriate. (On-campus testing is not available for faculty and staff.)

ISU plans to launch a public, online dashboard soon with campus COVID-19 numbers, Jome said. 

Meanwhile, Illinois Wesleyan University said Wednesday it's monitoring an outbreak involving 10 students who live in separate off-campus housing units.

Testing positivity and active cases

Meanwhile, McLean County’s count of confirmed coronavirus cases has reached 830.

Its total of active cases (159) also is a new high mark. Four patients are hospitalized due to the coronavirus, including one in intensive care, while 155 people are isolating at home.

Sixteen deaths in McLean County are related to COVID-19, while 655 patients have been released from quarantine and are considered recovered. Thirty-three have recovered since Tuesday. 

The county’s seven-day testing positivity rate spiked to 2.7%. That’s the highest percentage since July 11, but it’s still below state and national averages. The county’s cumulative positivity rate rose to 2.2% since the start of the pandemic, based on more than 37,000 tests.

County vs. state data lag

On Tuesday, County Administrator Camille Rodriguez explained to county board members why COVID-19 data posted on the MCHD website and disseminated to the media often is inconsistent and behind data posted on the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) website.

Rodriguez said there are several layers of verification, starting with the testing labs sending their results to IDPH, which then funnels the data to each county.

“There is a always a delay sometimes in the information that is received inside a portal that the health department employees check regularly in receipt of that information,” Rodriguez said.

She added there have been instances where people have received positive tests and called the McLean County Health Department before the county received notification from the state.

“If there was something magical that we could do to have all of that be simultaneous, I assure you that that is the way we would prefer it,” Rodriguez said.

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Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.
Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.