DEKALB — On Sept. 11, Northern Illinois University officials notified its undergraduate students of changes in instruction through the end of September due to increased positive cases of COVID-19. Undergraduate students residing on campus and in DeKalb County also received specific requests for limited contact with other persons.
On Friday, students were notified that effective immediately, NIU officials would temporarily be moving undergraduate courses online. It is also expected that all students who reside on campus, and undergraduates who live in DeKalb County, limit in-person activities and interactions until Monday, Sept. 28.
In a letter to students dated Sept. 11, NIU President Lisa Freeman outlined the reasons for the change in undergraduate studies at the university.
I’m writing today to inform you of several, important developments in our efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19 and protect our Huskies. Effective immediately, we are temporarily moving undergraduate courses online and expect all students who reside on campus, and undergraduates who live in DeKalb County, to limit in-person activities and interactions until Monday, Sept. 28. It’s imperative that you read this entire e-mail so that you understand the latest information and expectations as an NIU student.
Why is Action Necessary?
More than 120 students are currently positive for COVID-19, and more are currently quarantining due to exposure and/or pending test results. Through contact tracing, we have determined that the vast majority of student 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.
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.
Limiting In-Person Activities and 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. It also means absolutely avoiding gatherings or parties, indoors or out.
I know that this is very frustrating, especially for those students who have been diligently following the rules and prioritizing the health of fellow Huskies. By taking bold measures and limiting exposure now, however, we have the best opportunity to stop these trends.
Changes in course delivery
Undergraduate courses will be delivered online beginning Monday, Sept. 14, through Friday, Sept. 25. A few exceptions may be granted by the Provost in response to a faculty member’s request. Please check your Blackboard course site after noon Sunday, Sept. 13, to see if your course is one of the exceptions. Our intention at this time is for in-person classes to resume Monday, Sept. 28.
On and Off-Campus/DeKalb Housing Restrictions
On-campus students are required to stay in their residence hall room as much as possible for the next two weeks. Students can leave their residences to:
Pick up meals from dining facilities or the Holmes Student Center
Pick up to-go meals from local establishments
Pick up deliveries (grocery and restaurant deliveries)
Spend time outdoors doing individual activities while masked
Use university Wi-Fi, computer labs or the Founders Memorial Library
Take care of essential errands (grocery store, medical appointments, getting a flu shot)
Attend work (both on- and off-campus) after getting approval from supervisors
Participate in off-campus internships or clinicals organized by a student’s college
Manage child care responsibilities
Undergraduate students who live off-campus in DeKalb County (apartments, houses or fraternity and sorority houses) should stay in their respective locations and also follow the above guidance for limiting in-person activities/interactions to those that are essential.
University events and student organizations
All planned, in-person events have been canceled for the next two weeks, but virtual events will continue as scheduled. Student organizations are not to meet in person over the next two weeks.
I cannot emphasize enough that the points of origin for the spread of COVID-19 at NIU are parties and gatherings, especially ones where participants have failed to wear masks and physically distance. It is because of these activities that we now must take this two-week pause.
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. This includes residence hall common areas (such as lobbies, lounges and hallways), Greek housing and all outdoor spaces (parking lots, streets and lagoon areas).
Guests and parking
All guests of students are prohibited from campus, indoors and outdoors, weekdays and weekends. Guests are expected to voluntarily abide and comply with requests to leave; those who do not can be cited for trespassing.
Additional on-campus parking restrictions have been put in place for after 5 p.m. weekdays and on weekends.
The university will continue to do surveillance testing during this time. Students who have been scheduled to participate must come to their appointments.
Students currently isolating/quarantining or recovered
Students who are currently under orders by the DeKalb County Health Department to quarantine or isolate must continue to do so as directed. Students who have previously tested positive and recovered from COVID-19 are also expected to abide by requirements outlined in this letter.
NIU Helpline and DeKalb County Health Department
We need all students to cooperate in an open and honest manner with NIU and public health officials about testing, tracking and tracing efforts. All students who have been exposed, have symptoms or test positive MUST notify the NIU Helpline (815-753-0444), respond to any calls from state or local health departments and follow guidance of public health officials.
Responsibility and accountability
Every Huskie is expected to take very simple, responsible measures to keep one another safe. When Huskies choose otherwise, such as hosting and participating in gatherings, breaking quarantines/ isolations or failing to cooperate with public health officials, we must hold one another accountable and take immediate action. We have begun taking measures with individuals and student organizations, including our Greek system, for these types of actions that have put the health and safety of our community at risk, and will continue to do so moving forward. Failure to comply with the instructions in this letter will result in disciplinary measures that can range from written warnings and loss of university privileges to semester-long suspensions and, if necessary, permanent removal from the university.
The actions we’re taking might seem harsh and too challenging, but they are precedented by other universities and provide students and NIU the necessary time and precautions to be able to prevent an outbreak. I have confidence that if you work together as Huskies, and take this situation and each other’s well-being seriously, that we will see improvement and can resume our semester plans. Your fellow Huskies and the DeKalb community are counting on you.
We will provide you with a status update prior to our intended return on Sept. 28.
Lisa C. Freeman, President
Freeman also sent a message to faculty and staff regarding the change in course delivery.
“This immediate action is similar to what other universities recently had to implement. 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,” Freeman’s message read. “In view of these changes, student-facing offices might want to modify the fraction of services offered in person and shift more toward being virtual during this period. Supervisors should work with their divisional leadership to make those determinations."