More than 20,000 university students may return from zip codes with higher positivity rates for COVID-19

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Pam Dempsey/CU-CitizenAccess.org

A tent and signs indicate a Covid-19 testing site at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign's Alice Campbell Alumni Center on Friday, July 31, 2020. The University is conducting free saliva tests for faculty, staff and students with results typically known within 48 hours.

More than 20,000 students who may return to the University of Illinois community this month will be coming from Illinois ZIP code areas that have higher rates of diagnosed Covid-19 cases – in some cases much higher – than those in Champaign County.

Champaign County has had about 2 percent of those tested for the virus receive positive results, which means the person should self-quarantine for 14 days.

But a comparison of state public health test data on August 3 and ZIP code data for students who attended the University in the last academic year shows that 20,000 out of 33,000 students from Illinois may arrive from ZIP codes with positive percentages above 5%, according to a review of the data by CU-CitizenAccess.org.


Governments are advised to have a COVID-19 positivity rate at 5% or lower for at least two weeks before reopening, according to the World Health Organization. Illinois has an 8% threshold.

The positivity rates are calculated by dividing the number of positive COVID-19 tests within a zip code by the total number of tests done. 

The CU-CitizenAccess also review found:

  • More than 20,000 students came from 357 ZIP codes that have positivity rates over 5%. About 33,000 students from 1,050 ZIP codes attended the university in the last academic year.
  • 10,769 of those students are from ZIP codes with positive percentages above 8 percent
  • 1,730 students came from 26 ZIP codes with a 15% or higher positivity rate.
  • 796 students came from 10 ZIP codes with a 20% or higher positivity rate.

The city of Chicago is requiring that people coming from 22 states with high infection rates be quarantined for 14 days, but it has not required citizens from high infection rate ZIP codes in Chicago to self quarantine. Students who pass through Chicago on the way to Champaign County from those states are not required to quarantine there.

Julie Pryde, administrator for the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District, said in an email that the university is “sending repeated messaging to all students encouraging them to test as soon as they arrive in the community.”

“CUPHD’s goal is to catch cases as soon as possible so we can isolate and prevent any spread,” Pryde said.

In Champaign-Urbana, students, staff and faculty returning to campus will be required to be tested twice a week, said Robin Kaler in an email, associate chancellor for public affairs at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. 

Students returning to the community but have no plans to be on campus will not be required to test, she said.

“We are requiring students, faculty and staff who participate in any on-campus activities to participate in our twice-weekly testing program,” Kaler said.

In an announcement of the requirement earlier this week, Chancellor Robert J. Jones said there will be an app to indicate if a person is allowed to enter a campus building. Students, faculty and staff have to test negative four days or less before they are allowed in a building, according to the announcement. 

Kaler said the university will enforce the testing requirements. 

“Our Student Code addresses compliance for such measures by students, and our Campus Administrative Manual has been updated to address compliance for employees,” Kaler said. 

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