Northern Illinois University announced Friday that it plans to temporarily move all undergraduate courses online as the school faces an uptick in coronavirus cases driven largely by off-campus gatherings, the university's president said.
In a letter to both students and staff, President Lisa Freeman wrote that more than 120 students have tested positive for COVID-19 "and more are currently quarantining due to exposure and/or pending results."
"Through contact tracing, we have determined that the vast majority of student cases involve those who live off-campus or who attended off-campus gatherings where masks were not worn and physical distancing was not respected," Freeman wrote. "We are also aware that some students are not fully cooperating with health officials and following guidelines on reporting symptoms and potential exposure."
Effective immediately, she said, the school will temporarily move all undergraduate courses online and urged all students living on-campus or in DeKalb County to "limit in-person activities and interactions" until Sept. 28. All planned in-person events have also been canceled.
"I was really taken aback and depressed," Katherine Drury, NIU sophomore, said in response to the news.
"These careless and unacceptable activities have led to a substantial increase in the overall positivity rate for DeKalb County and put our entire community at risk," she wrote. "We continue to work closely with our partners at the DeKalb County Health Department, and together determined that we need to take immediate and significant action to reduce opportunities for further spread."
As part of the changes, the school said students must "strictly limit" all interactions to only essential activities like getting groceries, seeking medical care or going to work.
Under the guidelines, students living on-campus can only leave their resident halls to do the following:
- Pick up meals from dining facilities or the Holmes Student Center
- Pick up to-go meals from local establishments
- Pick up deliveries (grocery and restaurant deliveries)
- Spend time outdoors doing individual activities while masked
- Use university Wi-Fi, computer labs or the Founders Memorial Library
- Utilize the Student Health Center and Counseling and Consultation Services
- Take care of essential errands (grocery store, medical appointments, getting a flu shot)
- Attend work (both on- and off-campus) after getting approval from supervisors
- Participate in off-campus internships or clinicals organized by a student’s college
- Manage child care responsibilities
The school also asked students living off-campus to follow similar guidelines.
"If I don’t have in person classes, what’s the point living here in DeKalb and paying for this apartment when I could be back in Nashville with my family?" Drury said.
Bradley University in Peoria did the same on Tuesday, implementing a two-week quarantine for all students and moving to remote learning through at least Sept. 23. There, at least 27 new coronavirus cases have been reported on campus since the fall session began.
Meanwhile, a large party is under investigation at Illinois State University after videos surfaced on social media appearing to show a large crowd of young people packed closely together, screaming and drinking, many without masks.
The university said the party was held off-campus and was eventually dispersed by area police.
"The University does not condone the behavior. The administration is investigating the incident and looking into disciplinary action against students who attended the party," ISU tweeted Thursday.
More than 50,000 cases of coronavirus have been reported at more than 250 colleges and universities in recent weeks as students return to campuses while the pandemic rages on.
NBC 5 Investigates is tracking cases at more than 250 colleges, universities and historically black colleges and universities most attended by Illinois students, including all schools within the state.
Those schools include many that don't appear to report their cases online - meaning the true total number of cases may be higher - and many where classes haven't started or began barely one week ago.
At colleges and universities within the state of Illinois, more than 4,200 cases have been reported as of Friday - though that total is likely higher because some of those schools don't reveal information on their cases online.
At the 14 schools in the Big Ten conference, more than 9,900 cases of coronavirus have been reported. That includes 1,070 students and staff members at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which switched to fully remote learning Wednesday, closing all academic buildings and ordering residents at two different dorms to quarantine for two weeks.
NBC 5 Investigates is only looking at cases that have arisen during the fall, purposely excluding cases that occurred on campuses in the spring and summer, in order to concentrate solely on how the pandemic spreads as students return for this semester.
You can use the tool below to see the number of coronavirus cases each school has reported, sorting by school, cases and more, or searching for a particular term (like Illinois or Indiana) to narrow down specific schools. This tool will be updated each evening.