CORONAVIRUS

Iowa State imposes new restrictions, honing in on Greek system, as COVID cases spike

'Transmission is occurring primarily in social situations where students are not wearing face coverings'

Iowa State University. (Still from ISU Facebook video)
Iowa State University. (Still from ISU Facebook video)

A spike of 366 new COVID-19 cases in the past week has prompted Iowa State University to enact new restrictions across campus — including within its sorority and fraternity community, which is limiting non-resident traffic “as a result of high transmission rates in some chapters.”

ISU Greek chapters also are restricting social events, and ISU President Wendy Wintersteen in a message Wednesday said similar non-resident traffic restrictions are being imposed in residence halls.

“Through contact tracing and case management data, we know transmission is occurring primarily in social situations where students are not wearing face coverings and physically distancing,” Wintersteen said in her message.

Iowa State’s 366 new cases during the week of Nov. 2 ot 8 — including 344 positive students and 22 faculty or staff — was 3.5 times the 103 new ISU cases reported the week before, bringing the campus total since Aug. 1 to 2,342 cases, including mandatory move-in testing.

The surge lines up with an explosion in cases across the state, which during the Nov. 2 to 8 week added 25,109 new cases.

All three of the counties housing Iowa’s three public universities ave seen rising daily case tallies.

In addition to its imposition on Greek house and residence hall traffic, Iowa State this week announced new “strict guidelines for student events,” including mask mandates, distance requirements, capacity limits and a directive to create contingency plans and preregister.

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“We know that personal interaction is an important part of well-being and the Iowa State experience,” Wintersteen wrote in her message. “Student organizations can continue to hold in-person meetings and events, but they must be held on-campus and strictly follow the guidance.”

She stressed Iowa State has seen no evidence of transmission in its classrooms, laboratories, studios or other learning spaces.

Of the 2,544 campus community members identified as having close contact with an infected individual, only 58 had close contacts in a learning space.

Just one of those 58 subsequently tested positive, “and evidence from the contact tracing process points to off-campus exposure as having been the most likely transmission path.”

Iowa State is offering free on-campus student testing — regardless of symptoms — between Nov. 16 and 21, by appointment, before the semester ends the day before Thanksgiving and students head home for the holidays.

The campus is continuing to offer residence hall space for those who need to isolate or quarantine.

UNI

UNI this week announced a new on-campus Test Iowa site that will allow students, faculty and staff to schedule an appointment for a free test.

“One benefit of a UNI Test Iowa site is the broader set of criteria to qualify for a test, furthering our efforts to protect our community,” according to a UNI communication.

UI testing

Although UI officials last week announced they will be piloting an asymptomatic-testing program for residence assistants, the campus is not offering widespread asymptomatic testing. And it has not unveiled new restrictions in light of the recent surge in local cases.

On Wednesday, the campus reported another 74 COVID-19 cases in two days, including 54 student cases and 20 among employees — marking a continuing uptick in that category, which for months added fewer than 10 cases per update.

The additional cases bring UI’s COVID-case total to 2,581.

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“The number of COVID-19 cases in Iowa is rising at an alarming rate,” according to the UI campus message Wednesday. “We need you to do your part to help flatten the curve and prevent our hospitals from becoming overwhelmed.”

The message acknowledged masking and distancing the community has employed in recent weeks and months.

“We’re grateful for the sacrifices you’ve made this semester to keep our community healthy,” according to the message. “Please don’t let up. All of us are experiencing pandemic fatigue but letting our guard down now, even among close friends and family, poses a risk.

“The choices you make outside of class could affect your ability to finish the semester strong.”

The UI is not wrapping the semester before Thanksgiving but is moving all classes online after the break.

“Socializing safely this weekend could make the difference between going home for the holiday and having to stay on campus,” according to the UI message.

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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