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ISU Hopes To Expand COVID Testing By End of November

Larry Dietz at news conference
Illinois State University
Illinois State University President Larry Dietz said he hopes to expand coronavirus testing at the university by a factor of ten as early as the end of November.

Illinois State University's president does not have too much concern about a potential spike in COVID-19 cases to start the second semester.

Health experts say the largest factor in the spread of the coronavirus is travel, and most ISU students will return home for the holidays. ISU President Larry Dietz said he believes the campus can contain cases that result from the break without too much spread.

"As people move around, there may be elevated numbers until they get settled back into a routine, but I think we're heading in the direction we're trying to get more capacity to test at higher levels," said Dietz.

He said ISU hopes to do about to 13,000 tests per week. Right now, the number is about 1,200 per week. He said students, faculty, and staff who are on campus will be strongly encouraged to test once a week.

"Hopefully by that time we will have the saliva-based testing that the University of Illinois has been using and we're hopeful to have something standing up by the end of November probably," said Dietz.

Dietz also said ISU has not had to use the DoubleTree hotel for too much overflow isolation space for those who have come in close contact with someone who tested positive. ISU trustees have approved spending up to $1.6 million for that purpose this academic year.

Dietz said the pandemic will cost the university an estimated $46 million between this budget year and last. ISU has coped so far, but the high number raises the question of how long until the institution faces more deeply unpleasant financial choices. Dietz said he has hopes Congress will eventually pass another relief bill that can help the university; for the current fiscal year, ISU is in good shape.

"We're weathering the storm pretty well. That's why you have reserves," said Dietz.

Some labor market experts suggest the pandemic might be prompting more retirements. Dietz said his anecdotal review of the positions that are vacated that cross his desk suggests that is not a trend at ISU.

"If anything, I think we're experiencing a bit of people wanting to hang on because of an uncertain economy right now," he said.

University Athletics Director Larry Lyons recently announced his retirement effective at the end of the year. Though Dietz lives in an official university residence, he has bought a home in Bloomington. Dietz said that is not a signal that he has immediate plans to set an end date to his presidency. He said the home will need extensive renovation and he views that as a multiyear project and "a bit of a mental health break" for him to go swing a hammer now and again.

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