Signs on the entrance to New Residence Hall at Northern Illinois University reminds students to wear a mask as they enter the building Aug. 19 during the first of five move-in days at NIU in DeKalb. Students, parents, staff and volunteer helpers were required to observe COVID-19 safety precautions set out by the school including wearing masks and maintaining social distance.
Signs on the entrance to New Residence Hall at Northern Illinois University reminds students to wear a mask as they enter the building Aug. 19 during the first of five move-in days at NIU in DeKalb. Students, parents, staff and volunteer helpers were required to observe COVID-19 safety precautions set out by the school including wearing masks and maintaining social distance.

DeKALB - Northern Illinois University President Lisa Freeman announced a return to face-to-face classes beginning Monday amid 15 new cases on campus Friday.

Freeman called for a two-week pause to in-person classes on Sept. 11 amid a surge in coronavirus cases connected to campus. She had cited large gatherings and parties as the main source of transmission of the novel coronavirus. The decision was made the same day the Illinois Department of Public Health designated DeKalb County as a warning zone due to case surge.

"During this pause, we identified new cases within our student surveillance testing population on Sept. 18 and were immediately able to quarantine groups of students who were likely exposed," Freeman said in a letter to students. "Those students were tested, and the results are represented in Wednesday’s dashboard count."

Wednesday's cases, 25 in students, marked the largest single-day total of cases identified by NIU within a 24 hour period.

Restrictions will continue through the weekend, the letter stated. Freeman said the classroom was not seen as a point of spread on campus for the virus.

"Outside of this now-isolated population, our overall positivity rate has gone down. Importantly, through the DeKalb County Health Department’s contact tracing efforts this past month, there is no evidence that a classroom setting has been the point of origin for exposure," Freeman said. "We also have seen a notable decrease in parties and social gatherings. These results show us that the vast majority of you are taking this situation seriously, and I am grateful."

Freeman said that if the positivity rate increases, or there's a lack of compliance, the school will take another pause or shift permanently to remote learning and related restrictions.

"On behalf of all faculty and staff who have worked tirelessly for months to help you be successful this semester, I assure you that we don’t want to have to take those steps. We also don’t want to have a negative impact on our region that could result in additional restrictions being placed on DeKalb County, so I implore you to adhere to the expectations outlined in Protecting the Pack."

New COVID-19 cases

One of the new cases Friday was in an employee, the second in three days and eighth overall. Fourteen more students tested positive on Friday as well. Four more students were announced recovered, bringing the total to 186 total recoveries, 180 of which is in students.

Quarantine and isolation usage rose to 25.4% per university data.

In its surveillance testing results from last week announced Monday, 17 students tested positive from among 638 tested, a 2.7% positivity rate in the program's third week, up from 0.4% in Week 1 and 1.3% in Week 2.

The university welcomed students back to campus Aug. 19, and classes began Aug. 24. Students living on campus were required to submit proof of a negative COVID-19 test before move-in. The school suspended in-person classes on Sept. 11 but resumed them Sept. 28.

According to the school, the 14-day quarantine begins after the student first shows a symptom, not when a student receives a positive test for the virus. A case is considered recovered after the 14-day period is over.

Although specific surveillance testing results will be reported weekly on Mondays, positive tests produced from the program will be included in daily statistics. The surveillance testing will continue while the undergraduate courses remain online.

Daily COVID-19 case data from the DeKalb County Health Department may not reflect daily data from NIU because some students or employees may live outside the county and still test positive for the virus.

NIU staff are encouraged to get tested via state testing sites or their health care provider on their own. Students living off campus in Greek housing and otherwise also are not required to get tested, although anyone experiencing symptoms is asked to remain at home.

Students living on campus paid a $7.90 per credit hour health fee at the beginning of the semester, which covers the nasal swab testing services at Northwestern Medicine Student Health Center in the Health Services Building on campus.

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