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University of Illinois will require two COVID-19 tests weekly for students and faculty with in-person classes at Urbana-Champaign campus

Specimen bags are handled as COVID-19 saliva testing is conducted on the University of Illinois campus in Urbana-Champaign in July. Twice-weekly testing for those with in-person classes will be required this fall.
Specimen bags are handled as COVID-19 saliva testing is conducted on the University of Illinois campus in Urbana-Champaign in July. Twice-weekly testing for those with in-person classes will be required this fall. (Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune)

Students and faculty participating in face-to-face classes at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign this fall must be tested for COVID-19 twice a week, the university announced Monday.

The mandatory saliva-based testing, developed by U. of I. researchers, will begin for students on Aug. 16, a week before classes are set to start. About one-third of the classes at that campus will be fully in-person or include in-person components while the rest, including large lecture courses, will be offered remotely, according to spokeswoman Robin Kaler.

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“If everyone does their part to maximize the safety of our entire community, we have the ability to provide modified in-person delivery of our missions,” Chancellor Robert Jones said in a news release.

The new details help outline the university’s strategy for restarting some educational activities on campus while also adapting to the coronavirus pandemic.

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As part of the new rules, students or faculty planning to visit campus for any reason this fall — such as grabbing supplies from a building — must first get tested and receive their results no more than four days before arriving. Those who test positive for COVID-19 must quarantine for 14 days — either in campus dorms that have been set aside for this use or in an off-campus residence.

Barbara Wilson, a University of Illinois vice president, submits a sample for a saliva-based COVID-19 test at the Urbana-Champaign campus in July. Twice-weekly testing for those with in-person classes will be required this fall.
Barbara Wilson, a University of Illinois vice president, submits a sample for a saliva-based COVID-19 test at the Urbana-Champaign campus in July. Twice-weekly testing for those with in-person classes will be required this fall. (Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune)

Though numbers are not finalized, Kaler said the school estimates there will be anywhere from 5,000 to 15,000 fewer students on campus this fall compared with a regular semester. Fall 2019 enrollment at U. of I. at Urbana-Champaign, the state’s largest university, reached nearly 52,000 students.

Kaler said she expects residence halls to house 8,300 students in the fall, about 700 less than usual. Students opting to live on campus do not need to live in single dorm rooms but had the option to request it.

The school said it will work with the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District on contact tracing for any cases linked to the university.

Additionally, students and staff will need to complete an online COVID-19 safety training before the start of classes and wear face masks while in public settings on campus.

Following the lead of other colleges that shifted the last few weeks of classes to online only, U. of I. said Monday that final exams and instruction will be provided remotely after Nov. 20. The move is meant to limit travel to and from campus following the Thanksgiving break.

Students won’t be charged for lodging if they vacate their dorms for the final weeks of the semester, though some rooms will be available for students who continue to need housing.

“We are billing only for the time period students stay in the residence halls, so those who don’t return after Thanksgiving will not be billed for that time period, just as we did for the spring semester when the stay-at-home order happened,” Kaler said.

U. of I. has said it will set up more than a dozen testing sites across the Urbana-Champaign campus and offer the service for free to students, faculty or staff. The test requires a saliva sample to be dropped into a test tube, with results expected in five hours, though it can take longer in some cases. The tests were approved by the Illinois Department of Public Health, but the university is still seeking emergency use authorization through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

echerney@chicagotribune.com

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