SIU Chancellor Austin A. Lane and university officials on Monday outlined plans to ramp up vaccinations and for weekly testing of the unvaccinated campus population.
Lane also stressed the need for everyone to exercise personal safety.
“It is incumbent upon everyone, especially our adults — and I'm calling our students adults at 18 — it is your responsibility to act responsibly. Be well informed and get the information you need to know to keep yourself safe, and don't be reckless, because that could have consequences that now that we know can lead to death. I’m putting that responsibility on all of the adults to take care of yourselves and each other. It is your responsibility to help us in beating this pandemic, because we're definitely fighting it right now,” he said.
Lane's comments came Monday night during a campus-wide teleconference in which he and others outlined the campus’ response to an Aug. 27 statewide COVID-19 vaccination mandate that applies to students, faculty and staff.
The mandate also applies to all students and employees in K-12 education.
One of the panelists, Jackson County Health Department Administrator Bart Hagston, said the Southern Illinois region hasn't been "faring very well" lately, as COVID-19 cases continue to rise. The state health department gauges a region's community transmission risk and crisis level based on hospitalizations, positivity rates and other COVID metrics.
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“Many counties, including Jackson County, set new records for the number of new cases in the month of August. In addition, 30% of the new cases we saw in August in Jackson County were in teenagers and younger," Hagston said.
Out of 381 tests administered, 34 students and five faculty and staff tested positive during the week of Aug. 30-Sept. 5, a slight increase from the week prior, according to the latest university data available. As a comparison, six students and zero faculty tested positive during the week of Aug. 9-15, when a total of 385 were tested.
Jennifer Jones-Hall, vice chancellor for student affairs, said a free vaccination clinic offered in partnership with the Illinois Department of Public Health for the campus community and area residents is ongoing.
“We’ve had them set up for the last week and a half and we’re going to continue this week,” she said.
Vaccinations are available 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. To accommodate people who work earlier in the morning, hours are 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday.
The vaccination clinic is in the Cambria Room on the SIU Student Center’s first floor.
Jones-Hall said students are required to upload proof of vaccination to the SIU Student Health Center’s website.
“I’m really happy to say that of the students who have responded so far, we’re close to 50% of our student population being vaccinated, but I know that we have many more that are vaccinated and haven’t uploaded their vaccination cards yet,” she said.
For those who have not been vaccinated, the university’s Director of Public Safety Benjamin Newman, who also manages SIU’s Emergency Operation Center, said unvaccinated students will be required to be tested weekly.
Lane said the university has to comply with the executive order in continue in-person learning.
“Essentially, the requirement is that you either vaccinate, show proof of vaccination or you are going to have to be part of a weekly testing protocol and if you’re not in compliance with that, you cannot be in an educational facility because of the risk that’s out there,” Lane said.