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With COVID-19 testing widely available, NIU won't require some students to return to campus after Thanksgiving

Next week, students and staff on Northern Illinois University campus will have an additional opportunity to get tested for COVID-19 before being dismissed for Thanksgiving break.

But that opportunity – to better determine whether you may have contracted the virus if you’re planning on gathering in some form with family for the holiday – is being offered to all across the county, too.

The free COVID-19 drive-thru testing site, which also will feature a walk-up option, is being offered in conjunction with the DeKalb County Health Department.

Matt Streb, chief of staff for the university, said school officials specifically requested the pop-up testing in advance, assuming some students will go home for Thanksgiving. Similar to much of the county, NIU’s daily testing is uncovering asymptomatic cases, he said, those contracting the disease without exhibiting any symptoms.

“We reached out to the health department several weeks ago and said we want to be able to give our students and employees peace of mind to go back for break,” Streb said Friday. “They got right with [the Illinois Department of Public Health] and were able to set one up fairly quickly. I can’t say enough about the relationship we have with the health department. We’re in contact with them multiple times a day.”

Does Streb think many students will leave home for Thanksgiving and is that something NIU – which has successfully mitigated significant COVID-19 spread on campus in the past few months, in part because of surveillance testing or randomly testing large portions of students daily to better assess where a spread is coming from to stop it – is planning for?

Streb said post-Thanksgiving break, NIU won’t require faculty to hold classes in person. They’ll be welcomed to go remote, and many students, he expects, will finish out the fall semester at home, opting to not return to campus.

“We’re not requiring [classes] be held in person,” he said. “Our residential halls will still be open for students. But we’re monitoring daily what’s going on, not only our region but the state.”

Before the fall move-in and students returning to campus, those living on campus were required to present a negative COVID-19 test. Will that be required again?

“We’re strongly encouraging all of our students and employees who are leaving for break to go get tested,” Streb said. “But when people come back, we’re not requiring a negative test, but we will be increasing our surveillance testing.”

The free drive-thru COVID-19 testing will be offered 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Wednesday in the Northern Illinois University Anderson Hall parking lot, 520 Garden Road in DeKalb. Participants should enter from Kishwaukee Drive off Lucinda Avenue and exit onto Garden Road. Students without a car can walk up to the site to get a test, which will be done with a nasal swab.

Virus cases have remained relatively low on NIU campus for months, with daily numbers only exceeding 20 twice since Sept. 23 and the average daily case count sitting in the single digits, according to NIU’s COVID-19 dashboard.

“Like everywhere else, everybody has that pandemic fatigue,” Streb said. “We’ve been doing this for quite a while, and it’s not a lot of fun. It can be mentally challenging. But what I will say is I’m very proud of how seriously our students are taking this. They’re wearing their masks, being very careful about what groups they’re hanging around, those types of things. We’ve tried to find ways to keep our students engaged and to give them as many safe and fun things we can do.”

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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