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Nearly 8,000 students may be coming from Illinois zip codes with higher COVID infection rates than Champaign County

Marissa Plescia / For CU-CitizenAccess

Almost 8,000 students may be returning to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus from Illinois ZIP codes with higher COVID-19 positivity rates than Champaign County.

About 33,000 students from Illinois are enrolled at the university.

A year ago, more 20,000 students may have returned to the university from Illinois ZIP codes with higher positivity rates than Champaign, CU-CitizenAccess found.

To obtain these estimates, CU-CitizenAccess matched positivity rates collected by the Illinois Department of Public Health as of August 13 to enrollment demographic data on students from the previous school year. Final enrollment data for this year is not yet available.

Champaign County’s 7-day rolling test positivity rate was about 7.3% excluding the university saliva tests, but 3.5% including the saliva tests, according to the IDPH website. The state calculates positivity rates by dividing the number of positive cases to the total number of tests done. 

The university, however, calculates positivity rates differently than the state because they only count unique positive tests and divide by all tests on campus, making the rate lower. Because of that, the state publishes two positivity rates for the county.

The CU-CitizenAccess review also found that out of 1,366 ZIP codes:

  • About 5,600 students are coming from 355 ZIP codes with positivity rates at 8% up to 10%.
  • About 1,700 students are coming from 126 ZIP codes with positivity rates at 10% up to 12%.
  • About 400 students are coming from 41 ZIP codes with positivity rates at 12% or higher.

The university is requiring students to be vaccinated for the virus to attend in-person classes. If they are not able to be vaccinated or their vaccination card has not been verified by the university, then they must participate in the rigorous campus testing program, Chancellor Robert Jones announced recently in an email to all students.

Both vaccinated and unvaccinated faculty and students are required to wear masks indoors, the email also stated.

These measures are in place due to the rise of the Delta variant of COVID-19, which is more transmissible than other previous variants of the virus.

According to the Champaign-Urbana Public Health Department outbreaks in Champaign County are happening among people in the community, not students returning to campus. On Wednesday, 150 new cases were reported in the county. That’s a total of 278 cases so far this week.

There were 847 active cases as of Friday, August 20, according to the department. There were about 50 in early July. The number of those who are quarantined because they have been in contact with an infected person have soared to 606 and there have been four more deaths reported in the past week in the county, bringing the total to 168 deaths.

Below are the ZIP codes in the county with most active cases on August 18, the department shows:

  • Champaign 61821: 133
  • Champaign 61822: 115
  • Urbana 61802: 106
  • Champaign 61820: 104
  • Rantoul 61866: 94
  • Mahomet 61853: 74

In Champaign County, about 58% of the eligible population is vaccinated and almost 60% have at least one dose, according to the department. About 80% of students are expected to be fully vaccinated, Awais Vaid, deputy administrator and epidemiologist of CUPHD, wrote in an email. 

However, it is too early to tell if there are outbreaks among students as they just returned to campus, Vaid wrote.

“With so many new and returning students, there will always be concerns of more cases and clusters in the community,” he wrote.

Vaid added that in order to prevent breakouts on campus, the McKinley Health Center is continuing to offer vaccines and testing is still available. The health department is also working in partnership with UIUC on isolation and quarantine procedures.

“We have been in constant communication throughout summer to plan for the safest return to campus,” he wrote.

With the rise of the Delta variant, Vaid said vaccinated students still need to be cautious.

“Delta is a bigger concern for the non-vaccinated population,” Vaid said. “Even for the vaccinated people, it is important to not let their guards down and continue to wear masks and maintain safe distance.”

Marissa Plescia / For CU-CitizenAccess

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