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ISU President Carefully Watches COVID Numbers Climb

Larry Dietz at podium
ISU President Larry Dietz said deciding whether to close the campus again is complex.

Illinois State University President Larry Dietz said Monday he's closely monitoring the rapid increase in COVID-19 cases among students.

The current tally is 273 ISU student cases in just over a week of classes. Dietz said several things in addition to the raw case count affect any potential decision whether to close the campus.

"It will have to do with isolation capacity. It will have to do with how many folks are hospitalized, and thankfully at this point I'm not aware of any. It's a moving target we're monitoring, so I don't have any specific date or time," said Dietz.

Dietz said there are 24 students in isolation through on-campus housing, and the campus has plenty of space left for more isolation cases.

Dietz said he believes on-campus behavior by students and staff is in good compliance with mask and social distancing policy. He said he’s aware that off campus and on the weekends, that behavior has not been as consistently safe. He urged students to observe safety protocols and avoid large gatherings.

Dietz said the hoped-for use of the fast saliva test developed by the University of Illinois will not be soon.

He said ISU is still considering whether to use U of I labs or to analyze those tests on the ISU campus.

"The issue is the capacity to roll that out to us is somewhat limited because of the demand they have had. We have been told that we would be able to work with them, but probably not for at least six and possibly up to 12 weeks," said Dietz.

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign did about 51,000 tests in the last week and had 300 positive cases. Students must test negative twice a week and have those logged on a phone app or they will be barred from campus buildings. Dietz declined to quantify how much ISU would like to test, but said it would be far more frequent and less costly than the current testing regime.

The U of I team that created the test has said it is open source. Dietz said ISU is also looking at developing its own lab capacity to analyze spit-based coronavirus tests. He said ISU has the capability to have the labs on campus and that would be ISU's preference, though there are pros and cons.

"The good news is that the cost of the test would be reduced dramatically. And that's another figure that we're still negotiating with them on. But it won't be anywhere near the price we are paying right now. So, the potential to offer more frequent testing is there and we would like to follow that," said Dietz.

Other public university campuses are also talking with the U of I, said Dietz.

Listen to the complete version of Charlie Schlenker's interview with ISU President Larry Dietz.

We’re living in unprecedented times when information changes by the minute. WGLT will continue to be here for you, keeping you up-to-date with the live, local and trusted news you need. Help ensure WGLT can continue with its in-depth and comprehensive COVID-19 coverage as the situation evolves by making a contribution.

WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.