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IWU: Education, Enforcement Key To COVID Response

Ames Library at Illinois Wesleyan University

The head of Illinois Wesleyan University’s coronavirus response said COVID-19 compliance on campus was generally good during the fall semester, but it was a learning process for both students and staff.<--break->

IWU hosted a blend of in-person and online instruction in the fall. Most students stayed on campus. About 15% of students took the all-virtual option.

The university said 204 students tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the university's online COVID dashboard. That includes 10 students who tested positive before classes began.

Karla Carney-Hall portrait
Credit Illinois Wesleyan University
IWU Dean of Students Karla Carney-Hall chairs the university's contingency planning committee.

Dean of Students Karla Carney-Hall chairs IWU’s contingency planning committee. She said COVID compliance was a challenge early on when off-campus parties were still common.

“We saw that they came back and were excited to reconnect socially and had not quite gotten their heads around the fact that that’s not possible in the same ways,” Carney-Hall said.

She said the university also tried to educate students about safer ways to interact with others--by gathering in smaller groups, observing social distancing and wearing a mask.

She said enforcement helped. Several students who flouted COVID protocols got temporarily banned from campus.

“Our general feeling was if you are going to make risky health decisions, you can’t put the rest of the campus at risk,” said Carney-Hall. “I think students got that message really early.”

Carney-Hall said once the parties stopped, tracing COVID cases became harder. It appears most positive COVID cases in the last two months were tied to small groups gathering.

“We don’t have any evidence there was classroom-based transmission of COVID, or athletics, based in terms of athletic practice or those kinds of things,” Carney-Hall said.

Many classrooms had fewer students because some chose to learn online. Most intercollegiate athletic events were canceled due to the pandemic, but teams continued to hold practices and other activities.

Carney-Hall noted just one infected student required a hospital stay, adding it's not clear whether the student's health complications were related to COVID.

Most students who tested positive showed no symptoms. But she said over time, more students learned of a family member or friend having more severe COVID complications and that made it real for them.

“Even though they were not seriously impacted by an illness, others have been,” she said. “I think that reality check has rung true for a lot of our students.”

Carney-Hall said IWU will keep most COVID protocols the same for the spring. Students also will be tested for COVID-19 when they return to campus. There will be regular surveillance testing throughout the semester.

Students who choose to live on campus will have single-occupancy dorm rooms. Once the university reaches capacity, some students will be housed at the Marriott Hotel and Conference Center in Uptown Normal and can shuttle to campus. Students who need to quarantine will be sent to an undisclosed hotel if they are unable to return home.

To limit travel, the university will not take spring break. The spring semester will begin Jan. 13, one week later than usual.

Carney-Hall said one minor change is those who test positive for the coronavirus will no longer need a negative test to return from a 10-day quarantine. She said the university is following new CDC guidance that indicates someone is unlikely to be contagious after carrying the virus for 10 days.

Carney-Hall said she expects enrollment will be about the same as the fall. She said some students waited until spring to enroll because of the pandemic and that will offset those who may decide not to return next semester.

She said IWU also may have more students choosing the all-virtual option in the spring because the university is offering more online courses.

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