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As DeKalb County entered a warning level stemming from COVID-19, Northern Illinois University president Lisa Freeman on Friday announced undergraduate courses would be moved online until at least Sept. 25.
In a letter to students announcing the changes, Freeman said the points of origin for the spread of COVID-19 are parties and gatherings.
"I want to be clear that ALL student gatherings and parties of any size, whether on campus or off in the DeKalb area, are strictly prohibited during these two weeks," Freeman said in the letter. "This includes residence hall common areas [such as lobbies, lounges and hallways], Greek housing and all outdoor spaces [parking lots, streets and lagoon areas]."
In a news release, the DeKalb County Health Department said that, like other counties that include a university, the return of the students to campus has resulted in a spike in the number of positive cases.
"This spike in cases has subsequently resulted in an adverse impact to our County’s positivity rate," according to the statement. "Through case investigation, DCHD has determined that a large majority of the cases are specifically linked to large gatherings/parties that have taken place on or around campus."
In a letter to staff Friday, Freeman said the uptick in campus COVID-19 cases has been among off-campus, undergraduate students. She said in the letter that she expects all students who reside on campus and all undergraduates who live in DeKalb County to limit in-person activities and interactions until Sept. 28.
"This immediate action is similar to what other universities recently had to implement." Freeman said. "By doing this now, when our positivity rates are lower and manageable, we have more opportunity to stop the spread of the virus before things escalate further."
The closures also apply to athletics.
While some teams had begun practicing, a spokesperson for the school said all practices and sports have been suspended until Sept. 28. Weight rooms will be open for individual student-athletes, and the rec center will remain open for any student.
In a separate letter to students, Freeman said students should limit their interactions.
"Effective immediately, the university expects all students who live on campus, and undergraduates who reside in DeKalb or the county, to strictly limit their in-person interactions to only those that are essential such as obtaining meals and groceries, seeking medical care or attending work," Freeman said. "It also means absolutely avoiding gatherings or parties, indoors or out."
Freeman said the vast majority of cases involve those who live off campus or who attended off-campus gatherings where masks were not worn and physical distancing was not respected.
"We are also aware that some students are not fully cooperating with health officials and following guidelines on reporting symptoms and potential exposure," Freeman said. "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.
"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," she continued.
The county reported 71 new cases of the virus Tuesday, representing four days worth of data. NIU announced 73 cases on that day.
A county can enter the state's orange warning designation by reaching two of eight indicators.
DeKalb County has reached that for the number of new cases per 100,000: 122 new positive cases per 100,000 people, up from 57 the week before, well above the target of 50 per 100,000.
The county's positivity rate also shot up to 8.4% from 4.9%, surpassing the target of 8%.
In her email to students, Freeman said on-campus students are required to stay in their rooms as much as possible for the next two weeks
The letter said students can leave their residences to pick up meals or deliveries; spend time outdoors doing individual activities while masked, use university Wi-Fi, computer labs or Founders Memorial Library, take care of essential errands such as medical appointments and flu shots, attend work, participate in off-campus clinicals and manage child care responsibilities.
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.