MATTER and P33, in collaboration with the Health Care Council of Chicago (HC3), mHUB, and 1871 hosted a conversation about students returning safely back to campus with Bill Sullivan, PhD, of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (U of I). Dr. Sullivan is a professor of landscape architecture, teaching students how to create healthy, sustainable places. Michelle Hoffmann, P33 Senior Vice President of Healthcare and Life Sciences, moderated the discussion.
One of the many concerns resulting from COVID-19 is how to create a safe environment for students of all ages. While COVID-19 has made the lives of administrators and teachers at every level of education more difficult, colleges have the added complexity of keeping thousands of students who live on campus safe. Recognizing concerns for the health and safety of their campus, in April of 2020 U of I began to development protocols of their own, as well as a new application of COVID-19 testing which will likely be adopted by other universities.
U of I made the decision early on that they would bring students back to school in the fall. To do this properly, they convened and collaborated with professors from various departments to build a system that would allow nearly 50,000 students to return to campus. One key item that created a safer environment for students was the development of a new saliva test that only took a few hours to produce a result and sometimes faster with a negative result. The test was not only faster and more resource efficient, it was also more apt to detect lower viral loads that some other tests could miss.
U of I also developed an application that tracks and documents each student’s COVID-19 positivity and tracks proximity, not exact location, in the result of an outbreak. Students are not being forced to use the app, however, are not allowed on campus without proper health clearance from the application. The platform has been so successful that other universities, such as the University of Wisconsin-Madison, are looking to adopt the mode. With accurate testing and a well-designed tracing application, U of I has been able to safely bring students back to campus.
Dr. Sullivan was not conclusive as to how their success on a college campus can be replicated in academic settings for younger students, businesses or the general public. However, he is hopeful that their continued studies and understanding of the disease can support other viable solutions.
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