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Fall campus update from President Dietz (8/4/2020)

For 162 years, Illinois State University has opened its academic year in an atmosphere of excitement and anticipation. As we make final preparations for our 163rd year, I ask that you add another noun to the mix—vigilance.

The COVID-19 pandemic presents us with challenges we have never before faced.  The manner in which we meet those challenges—the way we practice vigilance at the beginning of this semester—will play a central role in how we fare this year. I urge you to review Illinois State’s health and safety protocols that can be found in the University’s Redbirds Return plan, as well as on the Coronavirus website.  Pay close attention to your physical health and mental well-being and follow all health and safety guidance.

I also ask that you review the University’s core values section of our strategic plan, Educate Connect Elevate.  Of those seven foundational values, I would submit that the value of Respect gains even more importance as together, we travel this uncharted and uncertain path.

I also want to share a variety of recent updates. The number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise, and we are closely monitoring information provided by the Governor and the Illinois Department of Public Health. Our COVID planning teams are studying how significant increases in positive cases throughout the state and nation will impact students, faculty, and staff as well as university operations as we begin the fall semester. As I have said numerous times over the last months, the health, wellness, and safety of the entire campus community must be our top priority and at the center of our decision-making.

Today is no exception as I provide updated information regarding the fall term.

Testing Options
Illinois State continues to finalize plans for on-campus testing for the fall term.  As of August 4, 2020, we will provide testing at Student Health Services for students who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms through partnerships with our local hospitals. In addition, we continue to have discussions with external vendors to provide additional on-campus testing as well as surveillance testing for asymptomatic students. For students with symptoms, test results are expected to be provided to Student Health Services within a 24-hour period. In addition, the state testing site located at the Interstate Center in Bloomington continues to be available for all students, faculty and staff and is free of charge.  Specific information about testing protocols and procedures will be provided to students, faculty and staff as it becomes available.

Our planning teams continue to pay close attention to best practices regarding COVID-19 testing on college campuses and will continue to explore additional testing options in the weeks to come. It is important to note that as cases rise in Illinois and across the country, equipment and supplies necessary to conduct testing are in extremely high demand. At the end of last week, the University was informed that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reallocated, to other agencies, equipment and testing kits that the University had ordered. Those supplies were expected to be delivered to the University prior to the beginning of the fall term. While this is a disappointment, it is exactly why multiple resources must be in place in order to provide testing for our students.

Classroom Instruction
Because we anticipate testing supplies will be in short supply and in order to de-densify academic facilities, we are moving more fall courses to online formats.  Courses that require a face-to-face component such as those in the sciences, music, and art, will remain face-to-face or hybrid. I realize that this decision, being made very close to the beginning of the fall semester, is not ideal. However, this decision was based in science, guidance from public health officials, and takes into consideration the University’s current testing capabilities and other resources.

Students should check their fall course schedules in the coming days for changes in course formats. Questions about changes to fall schedules should be directed to academic advisors. Rest assured that faculty have been working all summer to ensure that courses can easily transition to online formats if necessary.

On-Campus Housing and Dining Contracts
The housing and meal plan contract cancellation date has been extended, with no financial penalty, to Tuesday, August 18, the second full day of classes. As we approach the fall, we want to provide students and families with every opportunity to make an informed decision about whether to live in a residential housing environment during uncertain and unprecedented times. Contact University Housing Services for more information at 309-438-8611 or visit the Housing and Dining portal to cancel your contract.

As has been mentioned previously, safety measures within the residence halls and university apartments include, but are not limited to, physical distancing in all common spaces, no triple or quad occupancy rooms, enhanced cleaning of restrooms and high-touch surfaces, quarantine and isolation protocols, and no off-campus or overnight guests. In addition, students will be required to wear a face covering in the residence halls when outside of their residence hall room. As of today, we expect that random surveillance testing for asymptomatic students will be required of students living in residence halls and university apartments. More information will be provided about testing as it is available.  University Housing will modify and add to these safety measures as necessary throughout the year.

If the number of COVID-19 cases significantly increases in our area, the Governor enacts a stay-at-home order, and/or Illinois State experiences a significant number of cases of COVID-19, students will be asked to return to their permanent residences unless extenuating circumstances create a need to remain on campus.  Although the University has spent endless hours planning for the fall semester and allocated extensive resources in order to provide the best on-campus experience possible, we cannot guarantee a risk-free environment. It will take all of us sharing in the responsibility to keep each other healthy in order to remain on campus this fall.

Coronavirus continues to create many challenges and I thank you for your patience and flexibility.  As we begin the fall semester, please follow the health and safety guidelines posted throughout campus and on social media. In addition, I encourage you to join me in taking the Redbird Pledge so we can do our part to uphold a healthy, safe campus community for the entire Redbird family.  Although this fall will be quite different than previous years, I look forward to seeing you on the Quad and in the Bone Student Center, Milner Library, the Student Fitness Center and many other places on campus.

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