Chicago’s Universities and Colleges Prepare for Re-Opening and Vaccinations

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic 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. Initiatives included:

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 experienced; many hospitals and facilities also faced 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 grew increasingly overworked, it was more important than ever to have these new graduates begin their residencies and support local hospitals in any way they could.

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 Modeling 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 and Chicago Department of Public Health on COVID-19 Guidelines and Vaccinations

With America’s Urban Campus as the coordinator, the University of Chicago, the University of Illinois in Chicago, Chicago State University, Northwestern University, Loyola University Chicago, National Louis University, Columbia College Chicago, and City Colleges of Chicago, were asked this summer 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.

Since re-opening their campuses following the guidelines, the schools have succeeded in keeping student, faculty, and staff cases of COVID to a minimum. Representatives have also assisted the City in implementing travel advisories both for fall and the holidays and in reviewing the tightening of restrictions as COVID cases have risen across the country.

The group worked with the city of Chicago to secure vaccine providers for university vaccination clinics and support vaccination drives for students.

DePaul University School of Nursing Vaccines
DePaul nursing student administers vaccination at a community vaccination site. (DePaul University/Randall Spriggs)