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University Building Monitoring for Lax COVID-19 Following a Shortage in Recruitment

To enter University of Illinois buildings, students and employees must display an application indicating that they have been submitted to a clean and recent COVID-19 test.

Almost a third of the time, however, there is no one at the door to check on your status.

This is the finding of a group of University of Illinois journalism students who visited nine classroom buildings over two days in October and November, a limited experiment that provides a snapshot of the health monitoring taking place on campus. central university.

Journalism students compiled a monitor presence graph for each building on the main and south quads of the University of Illinois campus in late October and early November 2020.

Even when a health monitor was present, it was not uncommon for teachers, staff, and students to be able to enter speaking while passing in front of a building monitor or simply ignoring the monitor's requests to stop.

"Usually, I don't have anyone try to walk past me," said Jerell Wilson, who works the Armory entrance in Champaign. However, if they try to run past, "At that point, I just get irritated and, like, I'm not going to chase you.

" If you want to get in the building so bad, you can. " Students in an introductory journalism course taught by clinical assistant professor Chris Evans fanned out across the central campus between 2 and 3 p.m. on October 20 and November 10 to visit various classroom buildings and find out if COVID-19 door monitors would be present.

Of the nine buildings that were open to the public both days, two of them, the Foreign Languages ​​Building and David Kinley Hall, which houses the department of economy, they had no monitors on either day. A third building, the Education Building, had no monitor on the second day.

Service monitors found and checking the Safer Illinois app, which provides evidence of a student's COVID-19 status, in the remaining six buildings: Altgeld Hall, Armory, Gregory Hall, Noyes Laboratory, Wohlers Hall, and Psychology Building.

Police are not surprised

The findings, which show a monitor absentee rate of 22 to 33 percent, did not surprise university police, who said they knew they were understaffed early on.

University officials expected to hire up to 800 monitors, officially known as "wellness support specialists," but they ended up hiring just 250, said Jason Heimbaugh, a college police business continuity planner and member of the committee that prepared for students to return to campus.

After the university hired community members to run the testing centers, Heimbaugh said, few staff were available. to hire for the building oversight program.

After hiring event planning employees and community members, students were the last resort, he said.

“It was obvious that We wouldn't hire that many people, ”Heimbaugh said. “The university was willing to spend whatever it took to cover all of this. It really was the availability of people to hire. "

One solution, he said, was to limit the number of monitors in buildings where classes had fewer than 10 students.

" We didn't just work in buildings all day, "Heimbaugh said." We do it based on when there are classes and when there are students in those classes throughout the day.

"We knew we weren't going to catch everyone, and this it's not the one-size-fits-all solution. "

Due to a shortage of monitors, the task of checking students' COVID-19 status sometimes falls to instructors, including teaching assistants, who often sometimes they're college students.

Rachel Spencer, a Liberal Arts College senior who served as a teaching assistant, said the Roger Adams lab, where she worked, often didn't have a monitor present.

Thus who took it upon himself to ask to see the student's test results on his Safer Illinois app, which typically shows a photo of the student or employee along with the word "granted" each time the person has had a recent negative test – usually on the last four days.

"It's up to me to be strict with the students," Spencer said.

However, he added, "If the building is in use, it should be the responsibility of the school ".

School officials say they recognize the challenge of peers monitoring peers, but they also see advantages in that students would naturally be able to listen more to other students.

Natalie Meza, a third-year student studying social work, also said the peer-to-peer relationship has worked for her as a buildings supervisor.

“When you hear from a student or someone your age, it's better, ”Meza said as he waited at the Altgeld Hall entrance.

Meza said that even though he is the same age as most of the students trying to enter the building, he still holds them responsible for their access.

“Even in our training, they told us: 'You are colleagues, but also remember that if someone does not comply, we have a set of rules that we have to comply with,'” he said.

In a three-hour session with university police, monitors were trained to keep things so civil and quiet during any interaction with people wanting to enter the building, said Brian Bauer, associate director of the Fire Service Institute of Illinois and the co-creator of the building monitoring program.

“They are trained not to make the situation worse, allow the person to pass, and report the situation to their supervisors,” Bauer said.

These nods to the safety of the building monitors, which both students and school officials considered important, have inevitably led to buildings being less safe from COVID than they would like.

Faculty and staff have been problematic

An entrance to the School of Literatures, Cultures and Linguistics is closed, with a sign pointing to another entrance.

Among the buildings' most troublesome visitors are the faculty and staff who work there, said Jocelyn Rubi, a sophomore anthropology student who works as a building supervisor from the Noyes Laboratory.

These employees, he said, will sometimes question his claim that they must present evidence of a recent negative test.

Jacqueline Martez, a sophomore studying community health, said she allowed the students in without providing proof of a recent negative test. He said that as long as the students are not positive, they can defend their case so that the monitor at the door lets them in.

"If they're honest, then they'll just let them in because they're students," Martez said.

This evaluation is done with Mariela Lozano, a third-year journalism student, who said that a monitor let her pass without seeing her Safer Illinois application.

"The second time I went to a class in person, my application wouldn't load," Lozano said. "The person told me: 'If you're good, you can go.'"

The university's comprehensive testing program has received positive attention from the national media, which reported that the UIUC expected only 700 cases for the semester.

However, infection rates have been much higher, with nearly 4,000 cases reported as of mid-November, according to a tally kept by psychology professor Dan Simons. As of November 12, the university's online COVID-19 dashboard reported 4,043 positive cases since July, of which 3,956 were since August 15 when students began returning to campus for the fall semester.

With the positivity rate higher than expected at the beginning of the semester, the university issued a campus-wide lockdown, citing the actions of students who did not follow COVID-19 health guidelines.

But then, in November, university officials reported that staff and faculty also showed spikes in infection rates.

Meza, the student supervisor at Altgeld Hall, said she was not surprised at the criticism leveled at both students and teachers for causing the virus to spread.

"It's so new to everyone," he said. "I think everyone just wants to blame someone."

The Safer Illinois app, Meza added, may be part of the solution.

“The app is a good idea,” he said, “but you need the people behind it to run it properly.”

Additional information from Masood Ahmed, Abby Bourbeau, Ben Crane, Christian Jones, Sydney O'Brien, Jada Owens, Michael Rago, and Grace Wilkins.

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