How Chicago’s Universities and Colleges have responded to the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced dramatic changes at Chicago’s universities and colleges, disrupting campuses and creating new challenges for students, faculty and staff as classes were moved to online and dorms were emptied. As AUC institutions responded to these challenges, they also unleashed their creative energies and resources to help their communities, support health workers on the front lines, and seek medical breakthroughs to fight the virus. (To keep up with our latest efforts please refer to our news section here.) Our current efforts include:

AUC Institutions Move Quickly to Protect Students, Faculty and Staff

When Governor J.B. Pritzker declared a State of Emergency in Illinois on March 11, 2020, America’s Urban Campus universities and colleges immediately responded by closing their campuses and moving to virtual education. In two weeks, taking advantage of spring break, the institutions worked with their faculties to design online courses so that students—all of whom had moved out of dorms and scattered across the country—could resume learning by early April.

In addition, the institutions’ staffs, almost all of whom had to work remotely under the state’s “stay-at-home” order, established remote student services, including advising, counseling, mentoring, and tutoring, and career services. Technology services offices worked overtime to support student, faculty, and staff information technology requirements, such as an “On-demand Concierge” for National Louis students or the computers and financial aid provided to Chicago State University students. The institutions established emergency funds for students needing financial assistance. They also continued to pay students and hourly workers. Those having residence halls refunded Spring room and board fees.

Chicago Schools Prepare for Fall

A young woman wearing a facemask
Source: Pexel

America’s Urban Campus colleges and universities have been working hard over the summer to ready their campuses for re-opening in the Fall of 2020 amidst the coronavirus pandemic. These institutions have had to consider the different needs and concerns of students, faculty, and staff, respond to the changing guidelines of state and city government, and address the rapidly shifting realities and continued spread of the virus. Below please find links to the AUC members’ websites devoted to their plans and guidelines, recognizing that these plans can change at any time.

Collecting and Producing Personal Protective Equipment

One of the most significant early issues our healthcare workers were facing at the start of the pandemic in Chicago was the severe shortage of PPE to keep them safe during their shifts. To combat this, universities have been very creative in their production and donations of PPE to local hospitals and healthcare facilities. Some schools made use of their 3D printers to create face shields and N95 masks. Others swept inventories of nursing classes, theater, and art studios to donate N95 masks. Students and faculty donated their time and materials to sew cloth surgical masks.

3D Printers lined up on fold out tables in a students unfinished basement.
Student Jake Juracka set up DePaul’s 3D printers in his basement to help produce face shields and face mask covers for hospitals and medical facilities. Juracka is a senior at DePaul, studying game design. (DePaul University/Jake Juracka)


UIC Medical Students Graduate Early to Aid Hospitals Respond to the Surge

PPE is not the only shortage the healthcare system is experiencing right now; many hospitals and facilities are also facing a shortage of qualified employees. The University of Illinois College of Medicine responded to this issue by allowing 192 of its medical students to graduate early and enter the workforce. As medical professionals grow increasingly overworked, it is more important than ever to have these new graduates begin their residencies and support local hospitals in any way they can.

A UIC medical graduate stands by a window, he is wearing a white doctors coat embroidered with the UIC Med school logo on the right breast side of his coat
Shivam Vedak is among University of Illinois medical students who graduated early as the demand for health care workers grows amid the pandemic. (John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune)

University of Chicago Commits Fund and Food to its Surrounding Neighborhoods

To provide emergency support and address some of the immediate needs of local residents, businesses, and community-based nonprofits on the city’s South Side, the University of Chicago launched a multifaceted COVID-19 Community Support Initiative. This effort includes using the University’s existing infrastructure and dining workers – many of whom are South Side residents – to safely prepare and, in partnership with the Greater Chicago Food Depository, distribute 225,000 meals to community members struggling to feed themselves and their families. Additionally, the University has awarded more than $680,000 in emergency bridge grants to 182 small businesses across its nine South Side neighborhood focus areas to cover general operating expenses and direct support for impacted employees while also bolstering the recovery of active commercial corridors. Other assistance provided through the initiative has included $157,000 in grants and $153,000 in rent relief to the University’s small business tenants and $400,000 in grants and organizational help to community-based nonprofits on the South Side. Support was mobilized as quickly as possible in order to help bridge the resource gap in this critical period as public and private sector COVID-19 aid becomes available.

AUC Universities and Their Medical Schools Lead the Search for Treatments and a Vaccine for COVID-19

A close up of a medical professional's hands wearing blue surgical gloves holds a small glass bottle of a new anti-viral drug in a lab setting.
Remdesivir is being tested at several area hospitals. (Chicago Sun-Times). 

Researchers at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Rush University Medical Center, University of Illinois College of Medicine and the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine have been active in exploring different approaches to addressing the mitigation of the Coronavirus pandemic, including (run cursor over each dot point to activate links):

Scientists Use Predictive Modelling to Help Government Plan for Re-opening the Economy

A group of Ecologists from the University of Chicago has been leading an initiative to assist the state government in plotting the advance of the Coronavirus—to help government officials look into the future regarding when to begin to reduce restrictions on people and the economy. They and others at Northwestern University and the University of Illinois are using sophisticated mathematical modeling programs, fed with real-time data from the spread of the virus, to gain some understanding of what the future might hold.

A woman with shoulder-length brown hair sits at her desk with her back towards the camera in a nice apartment with floor to ceiling windows giving a view of Chicago. Her medium-sized white and brown dog lays a few feet away in a cream-colored dog bed.
Sarah Cobey of the University of Chicago's Department of Ecology and Evolution is part of a team working on modeling for the coronavirus pandemic. Here in her South Loop apartment with her dog Copper.(Provided by Sarah Cobey)

Universities Support the State of Illinois in Producing COVID-19 Testing Materials

Illinois Institute of Technology (Illinois Tech), University of Illinois Chicago, University of Illinois Urbana Champaign, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and private firms have been asked by the state to produce hundreds of thousands of vials of Virus Transport Medium (VTM) — a crucial testing material for COVID-19 — and make them available to the Illinois Department of Public Health to expand the pipeline for the critical materials needed for increased COVID-19 testing.

Schools collaborate with the mayor's office for Phase 4 Reopening, Fall 2020

The University of Chicago, the University of Illinois in Chicago, Northwestern University, Loyola University Chicago, National Louis University, and City Colleges of Chicago, along with America's Urban Campus were asked by the City of Chicago to form the Higher Education Working Group of the City's Reopening Task Force. The members helped review and draft Phase IV Reopening Guidelines for Higher Education. The schools' input helped the Mayor's Office and the Chicago Department of Public Health create guidelines that will allow Chicago Higher Education to continue giving the same high-quality education that it is known for, while also keeping students, faculty, and staff safe.

Cautiously reopening Chicago and Chicago universities and colleges rely on healthy interactions, safe spaces and conditions, and operational resilience and monitoring. The reopening will be a collaborative effort between the schools and students as everyone works hard to follow guidelines, sanitize their areas, socially distance themselves, and wear masks to protect themselves and others. Find more information on how higher education in Chicago will be different this fall here.