NIU now requires students, staff, visitors on campus to wear masks indoors

Update comes after DeKalb County health officials note recent spike in COVID-19 cases, spread of Delta variant as CDC designates DeKalb County with ‘substantial’ levels of virus transmission

DeKALB – A month after Northern Illinois University announced students taking classes on campus will be required to get the COVID-19 vaccine, officials said Wednesday NIU now requires face masks to be worn indoors regardless of vaccination status.

According to a Wednesday email sent to NIU students and employees, all NIU employees, students and guests – whether they are vaccinated or not – are required to wear masks indoors “effective immediately.” The only exception to the rule will be for individuals alone in their private work or living spaces, the email states.

University officials cited that DeKalb County has now been designated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a location with “substantial” levels of COVID-19 transmission, according to the CDC’s website.

“This remains a very dynamic situation, and the university will continue to monitor closely and provide timely updates,” university officials wrote.

NIU officials pointed students and staff to the CDC and Illinois Department of Public Health websites, which are tracking and documenting COVID-19 transmission rates by county. On the CDC’s website, each county’s virus transmission levels are rated as either high, substantial, moderate or low.

“Those who are vaccinated and live or work in the ‘high’ or ‘substantial’ areas should resume wearing masks indoors immediately,” NIU officials wrote.

The update comes after DeKalb County health officials confirmed during their Board of Health meeting on Tuesday there recently were COVID-19 cases linked to NIU.

Cindy Graves, nurse practitioner for DeKalb County Health Department, said one of the case groupings came from the university library, where somebody was exposed and symptomatic and initially tested positive for the virus, though additional tests shortly thereafter came back negative. She said another grouping of cases stemmed from a volleyball camp, where one of the students helping at the camp was exposed, started to show symptoms and ended up testing positive.

“We have had a couple of groupings from NIU, actually, who are vaccinated – some of them are vaccinated, some of them are not,” Graves said. “But this is what we are seeing.”

Graves also said during the Tuesday meeting the delta variant of COVID-19 became the most prevalent strain of the virus in reported state and local cases, which have been rising in the previous weeks, and the variant is now in DeKalb County.

A month ago, NIU officials announced in June students living on campus and taking in-person classes will be required to get the COVID-19 vaccine with a $100 credit as an incentive. More recently, NIU students got the go-ahead to upload their proof of the COVID-19 vaccination to the newly opened portal and request the $100 incentive or an exemption online, according to university officials.

Local health officials continue to say getting vaccinated remains the most safe and proven way to prevent severe illness, hospitalizations and death from COVID-19. That’s even more imperative with the highly contagious delta variant, NIU officials wrote in the Wednesday email.

“Huskies should not make assumptions, question, judge or discriminate against others regarding masks or vaccination status,” NIU officials wrote. “Guidance on masking for the fall semester will be released closer to the start of classes.”

• This story has been updated 8 p.m. Wednesday, July 28, 2021 to clarify local public health officials did not explicitly say there have been COVID-19 cases linked to the delta variant at NIU, though they discussed during the Tuesday meeting there have been recent COVID-19 cases at NIU.

Katie Finlon

Katie Finlon

Katie Finlon covers local government and breaking news for DeKalb County in Illinois. She has covered local government news for Shaw Media since 2018 and has had bylines in Daily Chronicle, Kendall County Record newspapers, Northwest Herald and in public radio over the years.