The University of Illinois COVID-19 testing plan is so aggressive that it accounts for 20% of the state’s tests

Eufemia Didonato

A COVID-19 saliva sample is collected as testing is conducted on July 7, 2020, in a tent on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus. 

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A COVID-19 saliva sample is collected as testing is conducted on July 7, 2020, in a tent on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus.

As colleges across the US continue to close and suspend classes because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the University of Illinois is taking a different approach.

While some schools are testing students when they first arrive on campus, the University of Illinois is requiring its students to be tested for COVID-19 twice a week, using rapid saliva tests that provide results within hours.

Students are only allowed inside campus buildings if they receive negative test results, which are kept up-to-date on a health-tracking app.

The school is testing so many students so often, that its plan accounts for 20% of the state of Illinois’ testing, and 1.5% of the nation’s, Sheldon H. Jacobson, a founding professor of computer science at Illinois, and Janet A. Jokela, the acting regional dean of the University of Illinois College of Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times.

The average testing at the University of Illinois for August 18 through August 24 was 8,505 students per day, according to an online tracker. For the same time period, the state of Illinois tested an average of 47,870 per day, according to the state’s health department website. That means the university’s tests accounted for an average of 17.76% of the state’s COVID-19 tests during that time period.

And testing has only increased since classes began on August 24. The school conducted 17,656 tests that day, accounting for nearly half of the state’s 36,155 tests.

Despite the strict prevention measures, 109 students at the college tested positive for COVID-19 over the weekend, Fox Illinois reported. All of them have been quarantined per guidance by the school and the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District.

While the university can’t explicitly stop students from partying — which many schools have blamed for COVID-19 outbreaks — it can prevent the spread of the virus by banning students from in-person classes and campus buildings.

Along with its testing, the University of Illinois also has a mask mandate in place and is holding limited in-person classes.

One student even detailed the steps she has to go through to get on campus in a TikTok video:


The school is working with the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District to conduct contact tracing for all cases connected to students, faculty, or staff.

Colleges are struggling with their reopening plans

Not all colleges are as strict on testing as Illinois. According to USA Today, the University of Northern Georgia didn’t test all students arriving back on campus. Instead, it asked students to monitor themselves for symptoms.

As students come back to campus, many schools are facing an influx of COVID-19 cases.

The University of Notre Dame and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill stopped hosting in-person classes after more than 400 students tested positive for the virus at each. The University of Alabama saw more than 500 positive tests in one week.

Alabama and Notre Dame currently have rules in place banning students from campus unless they have a negative COVID-19 test result. Follow-up testing, however, appears to be voluntary at both schools.

Governor of Illinois Jay Robert Pritzker attends a science initiative event at the University of Chicago, in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. July 23, 2020. 

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Governor of Illinois Jay Robert Pritzker attends a science initiative event at the University of Chicago, in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. July 23, 2020.

In an email to students seen by Insider, Illinois Chancellor Robert J. Jones said that the first 10 or 15 days of classes would “define how we move forward.”

“What will determine if we stay together in-person is whether we all can make the personal choices and exercise the very best judgment in these critical early days,” he said. “Our testing can detect the virus quickly. But the only way we can prevent it from spreading in the first place is by wearing face coverings, washing our hands, practicing social distancing and avoiding crowds and situations that we know put many people at risk of exposure and put all of us at risk of having to return to fully remote operations as we did in the spring.”

In their Sun-Times column, Jacobson and Jokela said that it’s up to students to ensure the school’s rigorous testing is successful.

“The students will make or break the University of Illinois testing and surveillance system,” the wrote. “Students now know that if they circumvent the recommendations, they jeopardize the in-person component of their education, just as was seen at the University of North Carolina. The students carry the responsibility for keeping the University of Illinois in-person component alive. They must make individual choices with community-wide implications.”

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