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COVID-19 Response: A Narrative

This page chronicles the extensive COVID-19 response activities across the University of Illinois System from March - November 2020. For more recent COVID-19 related stories, communications, and resources, visit the COVID-19: Rising to the Challenge page

The University of Illinois System established a COVID-19 Planning and Response Team to help coordinate the system’s response to and communication about the virus, and our three universities are monitoring their campuses and working with their local community agencies.

The U of I System quickly transformed its academic programs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly 90,000 students studied from home in the Spring 2020 semester, an unprecedented shift that supported efforts to limit face-to-face interaction and curb the spread of the virus, and students returned to campuses in the Fall 2020 semester, through hybrid mix of in-person and online classes. In order to assist students with increasing financial need due to the pandemic, the system created a new $36 million targeted financial aid fund.

At the same time, the system is demonstrating its land-grant mission in real time, marshalling its world-class resources and utilizing its knowledge-generating power to foster solutions that will help steer our state through the crisis.

Here is a look at some of the many contributions by the talented faculty and staff in the system offices, and at the system’s universities in Urbana-Champaign, Chicago and Springfield:

U of I System Offices

The Office for Governmental Relations (OGR) is coordinating closely with Gov. Pritzker's office to bring in expertise and resources from across the system to aid in the state's response to the crisis. Modelers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are consistently sharing epidemiological modeling information (see below), and now the U of I System is working to expand COVID saliva testing pioneered at the University of Illnois Urbana-Champaign across the state and beyond.

SHIELD Illinois is working to expand the COVID-19 SHIELD strategy across other universities, schools, and other public and private entities across the state, while Shield T3, a university-related organization, was created to expand the strategy beyond the state's borders.

OGR is also working with university leaders across the state to advocate for funding relief from the federal government. A letter was sent to the Illinois congressional delegation from U of I System leadership urging its leaders to ensure that emergency coronavirus-related legislation included essential relief for Illinois public institutions. A second letter, signed by the presidents of all of the state's public universities, was sent to appeal for additional federal resources. Vice President for Economic Development and Innovation Jay Walsh testified before a U.S. House Subcommittee on the key role of higher education in combating the virus and the need for research funding.

DPI and P33 launched an effort to help Illinois residents who suffered job losses due to the pandemic to gain new digital skills at steeply discounted tuition rates.

A DPI science team led by UIC is developing a prototype capability for detecting COVID-19 outbreaks and trends in Chicago's wastewater. UIUC researchers are also serving on the team.

The Institute of Government and Public Affairs assembled more than three dozen interdisciplinary faculty experts from the system's universities to assess COVID-19's effects on the state

The Illinois Innovation Network hubs is working with the Illinois Office of Broadband to expand internet access across the state. IIN hubs can play a key role in connecting key stakeholders in their regions to best practices for broadband access, adoption, and utilization through the Broadband READY program. 

The University of Illinois Press opened up a wealth of content on multiple platforms to assist study, teaching, and research.

Administrative Information Technology Services (AITS) is assisting the state's Department of Innovation and Technology (DoIT) by providing subject matter expertise and data analysis skills.

In the spring, the system's UI Ride shuttle service provided community access to its free WiFi for Champaign families to do schoolwork and work who otherwise would not have internet access.

President Killeen launched a project that aims to bring hope and inspiration to the university communities during the crisis through creative music videos: Amidst the Pandemic: Songs of Hope.

University of Illinois Hospital and Clinics

1,300+ meals delivered; 200 homeless recieved care from UI Health; 7,500 community safety kits distributed; 15 minutes to recieve test results; 570 daily capacity for UI Health Tests; 4 UI health public testing sites

UI Health hospital in Chicago

UI Health workers are on the front lines of the crisis, treating patients at it's hospital and clinics daily. Differential pay has been implemented for nurses caring for COVID-19 patients to compensate for the additional work, stress, and risk that they face. 

COVID-19 testing sites have been established at UI Health's Pilsen Family Health Center and UI Health's Mile Square Health Center

UI Health's Craniofacial Center has developed an N95 mask prototype

See more UI Health efforts under the University of Illinois Chicago section below.


University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

6 weeks to develop the saliva-based test; 10,000+ saliva tests a day (1-3% of daily national COVID-19 tests); 40,000+ Safer Illinois app users

Urbana-Champaign researchers are providing epidemiological models for the governor's office, developed in collaboration with other institutions, to show how social distancing can slow the transmission of the virus and prevent a shortage of intensive-care beds in Illinois.

Researchers at the university created their own saliva-based COVID-19 test, which is being used to conduct up to 10,000 tests per day on the campus, and the technology has been expanded to the other universities in the U of I System and will soon be expanded across the state and beyond. With funding support from the U of I System, DPI, Shield T3, and NCSA, The Grainger College of Engineering developed a prototype for a mobile lab for rapid deployment of saliva-best testing.

engineers working on ventilator prototypesA team led by The Grainger College of Engineering and Carle Health has produced a prototype emergency ventilator that could help ease national shortfalls and potentially save lives, as well as an alarm and sensor package for emergency ventilators.

Scientists are conducting studies to explore ways to decontaminate N95 masks for re-use, including electric multicookers, and microwave oven plasmas. 

Other teams designed and provided Personal Protective Equipment to healthcare facilities, and the Fighting Illini head football equipment manager managed the sanitizing and cleaning process for the pieces. A community-wide effort to sew and prepare masks and gowns was coordinated by the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, and development of an N95 respirator is underway. 

Units across campus are also partnering with Carle Health to dramatically increase COVID-19 testing in the local community and across the state of Illinois.

UIUC’s Integrated Bioprocessing Research Laboratory worked to fabricate and package hand sanitizer at industrial scale to help ease shortfalls. The lab produced several hundred gallons of hand sanitizer each day. 

UIUC alumnus Tom Siebel announced the creation of the Digital Transformation Institute, a public-private consortium focused on using artificial intelligence to solve complex problems. According to Seibel, the first goal of the institute will be to help find new ways to slow the current COVID-19 pandemic. The Grainger College of Engineering Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Professor Rayadurgam Srikant will serve as co-director for the institute.

At the direction of the National Science Foundation, Urbana’s National Center for Supercomputing Applications partnered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to coordinate high-performance computer time on a national level and fast-track the big data analysis that is critical to hasten new vaccines and treatments.

University of Illinois Extension is producing and collecting numerous resources to assist families and community leaders across the state coping with COVID-19. A new mapping tool was developed to help families with locating food resources across the state, whether it's food pantries, school lunch distribution sites, or stores that accept SNAP/LINK and WIC benefits.

A team of researchers in the Holonyak Micro & Nanotechnology Lab in Urbana is working on a smartphone application that would detect the novel coronavirus within 30 minutes, without the need for a diagnostic lab. Three faculty members from the lab have been awarded NSF RAPID program grants to support their efforts to develop quicker COVID-19 tests

Faculty from the College of Veterinary Medicine assisted with the rapid identification of COVID-19 as the cause of a respiratory illness affecting big cats at the Wildlife Conservation Society's Bronx Zoo, and the college's lab is serving as the primary saliva test processing laboratory for the university.

The university's Child Development Laboratory (CDL) is caring for children of essential, critical personnel in the community while staying connected to their regular students through technology. CDL is also providing groceries to low-income CDL families through the Child and Adult Care Food Program.

The CyberGIS Center for Advanced Digital and Spatial Studies has teamed with the state of Illinois to produce a system of interactive maps, charts, and animations to better help understand and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

A recent study from a College of ACES researcher shows the effects of the pandemic on food insecurity rates across the U.S.

University of Illinois Chicago

UIC is on the front line in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. UIC is testing a vaccine for COVID-19, as part of the Moderna phase 3 clinical trial being administered by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease. and has also been chosen as the site of two leading-edge clinical trials. One is testing whether a rheumatoid arthritis drug can halt the virus’s cascade into the lungs, where its effects can be deadly. Another is testing whether an antiviral drug that was initially used against Ebola in West Africa could lead to positive outcomes for those with COVID-19. A third trial, a Remdesivir-Barcitnib combination, was also conducted at UIC. And now researchers are launching three clinical trials for studying blood clot prevention in patients with COVID-19.

Under an agreement with the Illinois Department of Public Health, UIC is providing the state with its expertise on the control of infectious diseases, emergency preparedness and public health. The UIC School of Public Health is playing a leading role in the response in Chicago, Cook County, and throughout the state. Their efforts include providing experts, policy briefs and projections, co-leading the City of Chicago's contact tracing program, creating community resources, and mapping the outbreak.

Doctor helps administer COVID testIn addition to the UI Health testing sites, UIC is also helping lead efforts to screen, test, and educate Chicago's homeless population about COVID-19. Learn more about UIC and the Unsheltered Chicago Coalition.

UIC also assisted in producing Virus Transport Medium, a crucial testing material for COVID-19, for the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Engineers from UIC designed a face shield made from thin plastic that can be used by medical employees treating patients with COVID-19. These alternatives to masks take 20 seconds to produce and were manufactured at UIC’s Engineering Makerspace. The face shields are helping ease shortages of personal protective equipment at UI Health facilities in Chicago.

Researchers at UIC and UIUC are working to increase supplies of personal protective equipment, including efforts to develop sanitizing approaches that would enable equipment reuse. And a UIC-Shakespeare Theater partnership supplied 5,000 masks to UI Health. 

UIC medical students graduated early in the spring to help meeting the growing demand for healthcare workers during the pandemic. About one-third were matched to residency programs in the state of Illinois.

UIC is directing and/or participating in numerous outreach efforts to support the most vulnerable populations in the community. Some examples include food boxes  being supplied to COVID-19 positive patients, community kits of food, masks and sanitizer being supplied to those in need, educational resources developed in numerous languages, volunteers assisting with triaging calls from community members and reaching out to senior citizens, and masks are being provided to expectant mothers.

The School of Public Health’s Community Outreach Intervention Projects (COIP) was recently funded through a partnership with AbbVie to hire staff to promote awareness and educate high-risk neighborhoods in Chicago about prevention and risk mitigation strategies to address COVID-19.  

UIC's Electronic Visualization Laboratory began providing access to its excess computing capacity to the Folding@Home project for COVID-19 research needs.

A new paper from a UIC researcher shows evidence that suggests sex steroids may play a role in protecting against COVID-19 symptoms.

University of Illinois at Springfield

Mom at laptop at home with childUIS is sharing its expertise as a pioneer in online and distance education. At the request of the Illinois Board of Higher Education, the university is serving as a go-to resource for colleges and K-12 schools across Illinois as they make their own transition to online instruction.

People across Illinois and beyond are taking part in a series of small-business webinars hosted by UIS to help owners through the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the Springfield Innovation Hub, UIS and the Community Health Roundtable are conducting a webinar series on community health with immediate focus on the impact of COVID-19.

UIS staff and students  are making donations to their local communities. UIS Athletics donated drinks to healthcare professionals at Memorial Health System in Springfield, and UIS staff delivered meals to a local homeless shelter

UIS researchers are studying the impacts of the pandemic on a variety of areas including the economy, child abuse, K-12 instruction, climate change and others.

These are just some of the multitudes of efforts being conducted by faculty, staff, students and our university communities to combat this global pandemic.