Coronavirus response | UI students prepare for the return of spring and remote learning | Coronavirus

URBANA — University of Illinois freshman Tom Rose’s return to campus on Sunday was, in his words, “a bit unconventional.”

Since her roommate tested positive for COVID-19 the day before, an immediate return to her dorm was not an option.

“Last night someone on our floor just let me crash there,” Rose said. “University contacted my roommate earlier today with a space for him to self-isolate, so tonight I should be able to go back to my room.”

Thousands of University of Illinois students are returning to campus this week for the start of classes. The first week of four-day classes (from today to Friday) will be held remotely, to give staff and returning students time to test.

To attend in-person classes and gain access to campus buildings, all students — regardless of their vaccination status — must obtain at least one negative test result by Monday.

Rose thinks the remote week is smart, “if they can use that extra time to get everyone to understand” COVID-19. In the meantime, he’ll spruce up his remote workspace in his bedroom and look for textbooks.

Dahlia Davis, a junior from Plainfield who is studying linguistics and Korean, said she actually prefers remote learning for some of her classes.

“Just being able to wear headphones and hear a language and learn it is a little bit easier,” she said. “I am also hard of hearing, so wearing a mask in class a little away from the teacher is going to make learning a foreign language more difficult. I’ll have my first experience with it this semester.

That said, having to perform in actual lecture halls makes his educational experience more real.

“I don’t want to feel like I’m getting an education online while I’m still on campus,” Davis said.

She would have liked more time for remote work to make sure everyone finished their round of tests.

“I don’t know if a week is enough to do that,” said Davis, who returned and tested negative on Sunday.

Vaccinated students and employees have had year-to-date to get their required negative result, but if on-campus testing is any indication, many students are just arriving in Champaign-Urbana.

The number of undergraduates testing for COVID-19 on campus jumped over the weekend: 1,441 undergraduates tested on Friday, 1,600 tested on Saturday and 4,063 tested on Sunday. Of those 7,104 undergraduate tests, 236 came back positive (3.3%).

COVID-19 cases on campus surged in the new year, riding the wave of omicron variant cases sweeping the country.

Since testing sites reopened on Jan. 2, 2,270 people have tested positive on campus — mostly faculty, staff and graduate students living in the city.

The user interface adopts the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new five-day isolation guidelines for new cases. A student who tests positive on Tuesday should be able to return to class on Monday if the symptoms have resolved and they comply with the UI mask mandate.

“I don’t think I’m 100% comfortable, but if we all play our part in it, it should be fine,” Davis said. “I would prefer the 10-day quarantine, but I know a lot of courses are starting to require attendance again. We may need more space to work with this (virus), but I’ll go with anything.

Eligible UI students and employees must now receive a booster shot, although no deadline has yet been given, and the wearing of N95, KN95 and surgical-grade masks is strongly suggested.

Students who test positive should send an email to their instructors stating that they will miss class, but are not required to disclose if it is related to the virus.

On Friday, Provost Andreas Cangellaris sent additional guidance to instructors regarding returning to in-person learning on campus.

“Please be as accommodating as possible to students who indicate they must miss class for COVID-related reasons,” Cangellaris wrote. “We encourage instructors to manage student absences as they normally would to allow the affected student to continue to progress through the course (for example, by providing alternate assignments, access to recorded sessions, access to notes, etc.).”

For those teaching in person, the UI provides “short-term flexibility” for personal circumstances related to the virus, such as family members testing positive, their child’s school moving to remote format, or if daycare centers are closing.

“If an instructor is unable to teach one or two in-person class sessions for a personal COVID-related reason, the instructor may make alternate arrangements for the class, which could include go remote or provide alternate homework etc,” Cangellaris wrote. “The instructor should notify the unit of these short-term changes, so that the unit can answer questions from affected students.

“In the event that these alternate arrangements need to be extended beyond one week, the instructor should notify their department manager and work with the unit on alternate plans, if necessary, for the continuation of the education.”

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