Many colleges and universities across Iowa were in the middle of navigating a complex web of fall-return plans amid unprecedented pandemic conditions when Monday’s intense derecho blew through with gusts up to 112 mph — shredding trees, downing power lines, and eviscerating cell service.
The storm compounded extra work and new complexities the campuses already were experiencing in their COVID-19-mitigation efforts — including required testing and work-from-home mandates — by cutting power, hampering internet access, and creating new expansive cleanup projects.
“The Mount Mercy campus has sustained significant damage from today’s storm,” the Cedar Rapids’ based university reported on social media Monday, a message it maintained on its website Tuesday. “The campus is closed, and all students and employees are advised to stay home until further notice.”
For students already on the Mount Mercy campus, which had planned move-in dates this week and next before convening for the fall semester Aug. 26, “please stay in your residence halls, and meals will still be provided,” according to the campus alert, posted to its website.
“All campus move-ins are postponed until further notice.”
Just a mile south at Coe College, 70 mph winds left the 70-acre campus with widespread damage and no power, according to its updates on social media. It also sustained a gas leak affecting the Whipple Firehouse and nearby housing — temporarily displacing students already in residence halls.
Students affected by a surge of water in dorms were temporarily moved to another on-campus location. Despite damage and temporary relocations, the college accommodated all students’ housing and meal needs, according to its social media communications.
Move-in at Coe, like at Mount Mercy, was delayed “until further notice.” Those already in route to campus needing accommodations for the delay were redirected to the dean of students.
The college also postponed COVID-19 test appointments for Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. It reported Tuesday afternoon that power likely would return Wednesday but that email was out and cell service was spotty at best.
“Students are being communicated with via handwritten posters and staff walking throughout campus,” according to a social media post. “We do not know when we will regain power.”
Coe’s messaging highlighted the balancing act the campuses are navigating in managing a natural disaster with the COVID-19 pandemic, notifying students they’re “permitted to leave their residence halls for meals and other necessities but should do so with care.”
“We may run out of hot water on campus but at this time we don’t anticipate running out of water in general,” according to a Coe message. “Campus Safety & Security is making rounds on campus day and night. Due to the unreliability of cell service in the city of Cedar Rapids and the power outage, at times some individuals are having difficulties reaching Campus Safety & Security.”
Both Iowa State University and University of Iowa suffered damage during the storm, with the campuses still assessing the damage and cost estimates.
Iowa State, which lost power initially, still had some pockets without power around midday Tuesday, when it had planned to be laser focused on a socially-distanced student move-in. The ISU process requires students to schedule a move-in time, get a COVID-19 test, and work briskly with limited helpers.
On Monday — when students were scheduled to move in from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. — Iowa State closed its testing center for a period, although it reopened at 1:45 p.m. Anyone who couldn’t get a test Monday was allowed to come back between noon and 4 p.m. Tuesday or between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Wednesday.
And all move-in was delayed Tuesday, pushing those with morning times into the afternoon or to Wednesday.
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Although officials with the main UI campus haven’t provided any storm-related updates, UI Health Care — including its hospitals and clinics operation — reported Monday that power outages and other damage has temporarily closed some of its clinics, bumping some appointments.
Most Iowa City clinics reopened Tuesday afternoon, but others across the corridor — in Cedar Rapids, Coralville, North Liberty, and Bettendorf — remained closed as of 1 p.m.
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