College students, faculty grapple with campus COVID-19 concerns ahead of fall semester

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Until a vaccine arrives many college students, as well as some faculty and staff, are concerned for safety once classes resume this fall.

Nearly 7,000 students from Chicago's downtown Columbia College campus wait in angst as they await the upcoming semester.

"About 50% of the courses are currently being offered with some in-person instruction and that's too many," said Diana Vallera, with the Columbia College Chicago Faculty Union. "Many of our courses we know are best-served face to face but they're going to be impossible in some instances to do them safely."

The safety of in-person learning on college campuses is being questioned by faculty, not just across the state but also the country, especially as young people are now the biggest drivers of new COVID-19 cases.

At Illinois State University, where a large number of students come from the western suburbs, there are serious concerns regarding community spread. Faculty there have pushed back, and now many will be allowed to opt-out from in-person teaching.

"I have health conditions that prevent me from putting myself in a position where I could catch this," said ISU professor Stacey Otto. "We know students will be students, particularly when alcohol was involved. We were all students ourselves. So we want to protect from that impending disaster."

With little ability to socially distance within a dorm situation, Loyola University has decided those returning to campus will have their own rooms. They will also be required to wear masks, as well as submit to frequent testing and contact tracing.

Cook County Health Doctor Nimmi Rajagopal believes institutions and parents will play an important role in drilling in the importance of responsible behavior.

"The battle for every student is that they enjoy their freedom, but they also want to be respected as adults, so it's really trying to help them understand what's at risk," Rajagopal said. "We all know, if there's no accountability, there is no ability to give them the framework to be successful."

Even as colleges and universities continue to revise their plans, the consensus seems to be that priority must be given to those courses that absolutely require in-person teaching, with almost everything else remaining online for the fall semester.
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