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Coronavirus

DeKalb mayor: 'Several large gatherings' held at NIU over weekend; NIU to do surveillance testing

Also: How COVID-19 testing at NIU will work throughout the semester

Northern Illinois University freshman Daniel Clawson, (right) from Arlington Heights, gets some help loading up a cart from his brother Ben, 16, and his mom Diana as he moves in to New Residence Hall Wednesday during the first of five move-in days at NIU in DeKalb. Students, parents, staff and volunteer helpers were required to observe coronavirus safety precautions set out by the school including wearing masks and maintaining social distance.
Northern Illinois University freshman Daniel Clawson, (right) from Arlington Heights, gets some help loading up a cart from his brother Ben, 16, and his mom Diana as he moves in to New Residence Hall Wednesday during the first of five move-in days at NIU in DeKalb. Students, parents, staff and volunteer helpers were required to observe coronavirus safety precautions set out by the school including wearing masks and maintaining social distance.

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DeKALB – DeKalb Mayor Jerry Smith said Monday that 'several large gatherings' were held around Northern Illinois University campus over the weekend, and said he met Monday with NIU President Lisa Freeman and other leaders to talk COVID-19 virus prevention.

"I think everybody is concerned about Northern," Smith said. "And the fact that there may be not only some positivity but over the weekend there were several large gatherings."

Students returned to classes Monday at NIU, six days after move-in and three days after two cases of the novel coronavirus were reported in a staff member and a student. Another student tested positive for COVID-19 Monday, bringing the total of cases linked to campus this semester to three.

Smith said he along with other NIU and city leaders, including NIU Police Chief Tom Phillips and DeKalb Acting Police Chief Bob Redel were notified and met Monday morning to discuss. He said he also reached out to members of the DeKalb Area Renters Association to garner their support in monitoring large group gatherings to prevent potential community spread of the viral respiratory disease.

"The problem is not unique to DeKalb by any stretch of the imagination," Smith said.

Ward 2 Alderman Bill Finucane said he's heard of the mask directive not being enforced at area grocery stores among other places.

"I'd like to think maybe we can do something about that," Finucane said. "I know that there's a lot of pushback from certain individuals about wearing a mask and about 'it's their freedom' but you know what, if everybody does not start wearing a mask indoors, the pandemic will get away from us as it has already in some counties here in Illinois."

Finucane said he's hoping the protocols put in place at NIU "work better than the ones" at the University of North Carolina and University of Notre Dame, the latter of which reports over 400 cases in the past 20 days linked to the institution.

"We're all in this together," Smith said, echoing Finucane's words. "We have to keep our fingers cross that what's happened at other campuses across this country is not going to happen at NIU, that we can keep our students here, keep our positivity rate low, community spread at a minimum if we all do what we're supposed to do."

Testing at NIU

In response to positive cases of the novel coronavirus on campus, NIU spokesperson Lisa Miner said the university has plans to ensure those in its community get tested as able, with the plan placing an emphasis on self-monitoring symptoms.

"NIU employees should contact their medical provider and seek testing that’s available in their community," Miner said. "This is important as we still have many employees working remotely and if they’re not feeling well or have been exposed, we want them to avoid campus."

For students, they can pay a$7.90 per credit hour health fee to utilize nasal swab testing services at Northwestern Medicine Student Health Center in the Health Services Building on campus. Testing for students living off campus or in Greek housing is not required, the website states.

"Those who do not should seek out testing from their local providers," she said.

Students living on campus were required to get tested for COVID-19 prior to move in, but periodic testing throughout the semester will be done a little differently, through surveillance testing, which is when a control group of the population are tested intermitently to more quickly assess realities of community spread.

An additional step will be taken beginning the week of Aug. 31, with surveillance testing of on-campus students who live in residential halls and/or attend a form of in-person classes, Miner said. Details are still being finalized with the DeKalb County Health Department and Northwestern Medicine, and NIU leaders will share those online when ready.

"Surveillance testing is a strategy commonly used by public health officials to help them better understand the spread of a disease and the effectiveness of steps being taken to slow or stop the spread," NIU's 'Protect the Pack' plan states. "They do so by testing specific samples within a population in a way that allows them to make inferences as efficiently as possible."

Any NIU individual experiencing symptoms can get tested at any Illinois testing site, and NIU's website states if they can't afford one or drive to one, testing "can be arranged" through the county health department instead.

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