A dozen Bradley University students, including some who attended a social gathering after leading freshmen orientation programs this month, have tested positive for COVID-19, the school said.
After the Peoria school learned of the new cases on July 23, it determined after testing and contact tracing that the outbreak apparently stemmed from a small off-campus gathering in which attendees didn't wear masks or practice social distancing, Bradley spokeswoman Renee Charles said. Officials said they don't believe it was connected to the orientation sessions that preceded the party.
"This event highlights the importance of remaining vigilant about engaging in behaviors proven to slow the spread of the virus,” Bradley's president, Stephen Standifird said in a message Monday. “Face masks, physical distancing and frequent hand washing matter. This case also highlights the importance of an aggressive testing and contact tracing routine.”
During a visit to Peoria on Thursday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker urged residents to wear masks and warned of a recent uptick in COVID-19 cases in the state.
“We're at a danger point everybody,” he said,
Health officials on Thursday raised the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Illinois by 1,772 and raised the death toll by 18. It marked the highest daily total in new cases since May, when the coronavirus was at its peak in Illinois. The July average in new daily cases has eclipsed the June daily average by more than 300.
Some of the Bradley students became infected after attending outdoor and indoor orientation activities on July 20 and July 21 at the 5,000-student campus. Attendees who were determined to have spent more than 15 minutes with one of the infected students were notified by a phone call or text message, but school officials said they don't think the risk of transmission was high during the sessions because attendees had to wear masks and adhere to social distancing.
The school said it plans to resume in-person classes in late August, but that it is monitoring a recent increase in the number of cases and emergency room visits for COVID-19 symptoms in the Peoria area.
“Our fall plans, we continue to say, are subject to change,” Charles told the Chicago Tribune, noting that administrators have been meeting regularly to go over various scenarios and the school's policies and procedures.
The virus has also led other schools to make changes, including Georgetown University and George Washington University in the nation's capital, which announced this week that they would begin the school year only online, backing away from plans to have at least some in-person classes.
Recent Chicago health data also points to another concern for campuses hoping for students to return in the fall: The percentage of cases among people ages 18 to 29 is on the rise. Earlier this month, the city's Department of Public Health said that 29% of the confirmed cases since June 15 were among people in that age group, which was a stark change from May, when cases peaked in the city and overwhelmingly affected older people.