As Iowa State University and University of Northern Iowa begin their earliest fall finals week in recent history — if not ever — the campuses are issuing warnings and offering tools to protect the families and communities their tens of thousands of students will head home to in the coming days.
Iowa State — which last week became Iowa’s only public university to offer voluntary asymptomatic campus testing, in addition to regular testing for those with symptoms or close contacts — on Monday reported 268 students, faculty, and staff tested positive for COVID-19 between Nov. 16 and Sunday, including those identified through the asymptomatic pre-break testing.
The new campus cases bring Iowa State’s coronavirus-infection total on the semester — which comes to a close Wednesday — to 2,931, the highest of the three regent universities.
ISU — in addition to being the only campus to offer asymptomatic pre-break testing and mandate asymptomatic pre-move-in testing — also was the only of Iowa’s public universities to run a random testing program during the term, which uncovered just one asymptomatic case.
That program offered 992 students an incentive to take a COVID-19 test between Oct. 12 and 24, and 160 participated — identifying the one positive.
With ISU and UNI ending their semesters early Wednesday, those campuses have urged diligence as the students head home for the holidays — and continued offering residence hall space for those needing to stay in isolation and quarantine.
“Students may need to complete their isolation period here before returning home,” according to ISU communication urging pre-travel precautions.
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Iowa State on Monday reported 328 members of its campus community who tested positive were in active isolation last week. Of the 904 in quarantine over the last two weeks for having a close contact, Iowa State reported 233 have tested positive — or about a quarter.
Of Iowa State’s 236 residence hall rooms available for quarantine, 23 are in use, the campus reported Monday. Of its 156 rooms available for isolation, 29 are in use.
UNI, which also recently expanded testing options by activating a state-run Test Iowa site on campus, reported its Student Health Center last week identified another 73 cases. UNI had 45 self-reported positives via its voluntary Panther Health Survey during that time — a tally that could include off-site testing but could also be repetitive of on-campus results.
As its students head out of town, UNI is offering free Panther-branded face masks and residence hall space — with 49 in quarantine and fewer than six in isolation.
And University of Iowa, which is continuing its fall semester through Dec. 18 as planned but moving all courses online after Thanksgiving, on Monday reported another 46 positives over the weekend — bringing its campus total on the semester to 2,888.
UI has 11 students in isolation but only one in quarantine in its residence halls.
Although that campus has not offered its general student population asymptomatic testing, UI earlier this month launched a resident assistant pilot program allowing volunteers in those higher-risk positions to get a test without symptoms or a confirmed close contact.
As of last week, 15 RAs had participated and none had tested positive.
“The university is still assessing the feasibility of expanding surveillance testing on campus, and will continue to evaluate this pilot program to determine whether it should be expanded to other student employee groups,” according to a UI campus communication.
UI officials on Monday circulated a COVID-19 holiday season “tool kit,” including activity-safety ranking guidance across categories like food and family; shopping; sports fandom; and fitness. It ranks eating with family members in your household low risk and attending an indoor gathering with others as high risk. It rates as low risk online shopping and as high risk shopping in crowded stores.
Iowa State also issued guidance for students returning home — including steps to take before leaving, like getting a flu shot and curtailing interpersonal interactions; measures to take during travel, like limiting stops by car and wearing masks when in public spaces; and actions to take once home.
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At-home advice includes quarantining for 14 days, if possible, including eating meals in a private space, wearing masks and distancing, using separate silverware and dishes, and using a separate bathroom.
Winter And Spring
In that all three universities have extended winter break with plans to reconvene for the spring semester Jan. 25, they’re each offering online winter terms allowing students to get ahead or make up for time lost due to the pandemic.
“Take advantage of your winter break with accelerated online courses at Iowa,” according to UI communication. “As an undergrad, you can earn up to three credit hours to help you catch up on a class you missed, get a head start on the spring semester, or stay on track for graduation.”
UI’s winter course dates extend from Dec. 28 to Jan. 22; UNI is offering courses between Nov. 30 and Jan. 22; and ISU is offering courses between Dec. 14 and Jan. 21.
All three are planning hybrid spring semesters — similar to the fall semester — with no spring break. Although the campuses held their last spring commencements virtually, and they’re planning similar online celebrations for those graduating at the end of this fall semester, they’ve not announced plans for the upcoming spring graduation season.
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