With the increase in COVID-19 cases in Illinois and a new semester quickly approaching, representatives from the state’s public higher education institutions have met with Illinois lawmakers for a hearing to discuss what a new normal on campuses might look like.
The hearing, which was broadcast publicly on the Illinois General Assembly website on August 5, was chaired by Representative La Shawn K. Ford, D-Chicago, and was attended by members of the Illinois House and House Higher Education Committee Credit Commission-Higher Education.
“It is important that students understand their responsibilities when they return to college this fall for the safety of their classmates, staff and all other members of the campus community,” Ford said in a statement. August 3 press release.
The hearing began with a presentation from the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Illinois Council on Higher Education on their guidance for higher education institutions, both public and private.
At the hearing, IDPH spokesperson Aaron Beswick said they advise all colleges and universities require vaccination of professors, staff and students. For those unvaccinated on campus, Beswick said the IDPH recommends maintaining face masks and physical distancing inside.
Columbia announced in an April 19 email that the college will require students must be vaccinated before returning to campus in the fall, with vaccination being “strongly encouraged” for faculty and staff, as the Chronicle reports. The college will require regular testing for all unvaccinated members of the campus community.
Columbia also requires that students, faculty and staff wear masks at all times on campus, regardless of immunization status as of July 30, as indicated in an email to faculty, staff and students. The college shares its reopening publicly updates in a section of its website titled “Back Together, Columbia”.
Ginger Ostro, tThe IBHE executive director echoed many of the IDPH’s recommendations, adding that Illinois institutions should provide information on the pandemic and should promote confidence in vaccines. According to Ostro, the IBHE updated its official Phase 5 guidelines for higher education institutions on July 19 based on the new CDC guidelines that encourage the face masks regardless of vaccination status.
In the updated guidelines, the IBHE also “strongly encouraged” the screening of unvaccinated people using the IDPH scheme for testing in community settings and schools.
Representative Deanne Mazzochi, R-Elmhurst, challenged some of the guidelines outlined by the IDPH and IBHE, questioning the statistical rationale for some of the updated guidelines. Beswick said IDPH will follow up with Mazzochi and the two higher education committees provide vaccine data.
After these presentations, representatives from Chicago State University, University of Illinois System, Illinois State University, Western Illinois University, Governor State University, Southern Illinois University, Eastern Illinois University, Northeastern Illinois University and Northern Illinois University have detailed their plans for a return to class in person. Many representatives said they would require faculty and staff to be vaccinated before working on campus.
At Chicago State University, President Zaldwaynaka “Z” Scott said the school will continue to improve the ventilation and air quality systems on campus. Scott also said CSU would require all resident and student athletes to be vaccinated – guidelines many schools in attendance said they would implement.
“After a year of blended teaching, our students yearn for a return to more traditional face-to-face teaching in the fall,” said Avijit Ghosh, vice president and chief financial officer of the University of Illinois system.
Ghosh and other officials said their universities received funding from the three federal stimulus bills to account for expenses related to tests and other costs, and they can need for additional federal funding as campuses open up.