Illinois Colleges Lay Out Fall COVID-19 Plans

Most Illinois colleges and universities are requiring students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 before returning to class this fall after recommendations from two state agencies. The Illinois Board of Higher Education and the Illinois Community College Board both encouraged schools to require vaccinations for students before the fall semester. During a House hearing of the Higher Education Committee, Ginger Ostro, executive director of the Illinois Board of Higher Education, said they agree with the Illinois Department of Public Health regarding masks.

“New guidance recommends masking indoors for all persons whether vaccinated or unvaccinated in areas of substantial or high transmission,” Ostro said.

State Rep. Deanne Mazzochi, R-Elmhurst, took issue with the IDPH guidance and wanted evidence, especially for those who already contracted COVID-19 and have a natural immunity.

“Because I have had difficulty getting information out of IDPH, so Dr. Ezike makes a lot of these pronouncements but then won’t back it up with the actual evidence that she is relying on,” Mazzochi said.

Numerous schools have implemented a mask mandate for this fall, including the University of Illinois, Illinois State University, Southern Illinois University, Eastern Illinois University and Monmouth College. Vaccines are not being mandated at Southern Illinois University, but SIU President Dan Mahoney said they are strongly encouraged.

“We are providing various incentives, both individual incentives as well as group incentives, so for certain students organizations that get up to certain vaccination rates we’re providing them money to help support their student organizations,” Mahoney said.

ISU is holding a vaccination lottery to encourage students to get a shot. Students who upload their vaccination card can enter a lottery for a $1,000 scholarship. Students who don’t win the scholarship could be one of 75 students selected for a $100 lottery. That money can be used to buy food on campus. Other schools explained the protocol when there are positive COVID-19 cases on campus. Joe Roselieb, a spokesman for Western Illinois University, said they are prepared.

“We have two residence halls specifically offline for the use of quarantine and isolation,” Roselieb said. “We have 350 beds available for both quarantine and isolation and broken up by gender.”

Several university officials emphasized that they will continue to follow the science and pivot to new guidelines as needed.