For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic started in March 2020, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign welcomed the majority of students and faculty back to on-site learning.
Getting to that reality has taken courageous leadership and quick functioning administrative action, but just as important, actual work on the front lines.
The F&S HVAC Response Team, a collection of a handful of experts from across divisions that formed shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic, looked at ventilation and filtration in more than 800 classrooms; but there’s also 2,623 shared spaces on campus, as well. Every spot where students, faculty, and staff could conceivably gather needed to be examined. Most spaces have outside air provided by mechanical systems, but the very few that do not are mostly used for storage.
By opening doors and windows—and in some cases using a portable HEPA air filter—just nine classrooms without mechanical airflow systems will still function safely and effectively, per guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). Every section of every class needed proper oversight, so the F&S Classroom Assessment Team evaluated and provided enrollment capacity to Facility and Management Scheduling (FMS), which is the administrative unit that makes the schedule for classes. It was found that 30 classrooms, for instance, are either under construction or to be used as storage, while hundreds of more rooms can continue and hit protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and its variants.
Throughout the pandemic, F&S labored to move furniture and moveable walls/guards to adhere to social distancing guidelines; reviewed and replaced air filters and ventilation; and added and removed signage, tape, and stickers with different information on each iteration of the response. New service levels have been released, which outline the work services and schedule for the fall semester for custodial activities, including scheduled cleaning, trash pick-up, and disinfection guidelines in case of a positive case.
As the reality surrounding the response to COVID changed—and continues to change—university leaders shifted direction as necessary, per guidelines from the CDC, Illinois Department of Public Health and Champaign-Urbana Public Health District. Even with the July 29 announcement of the return to face coverings requirement for building entry, no social distancing or room capacity was required.
So, welcome back students, faculty, and staff – and know that F&S experts and laborers will continue to provide an environment where you and the community can safely participate in campus activities! For the most up-to-date information, visit: https://fs.illinois.edu/resources/covid-response.