In another week of residence hall move-in at Iowa State University involving mandatory COVID-19 testing — complicated by a massive and devastating derecho on Monday — the campus identified 75 more students with coronavirus of the 3,472 tested.
That’s a 2.2 percent positivity rate — the same reported last week when Iowa State found 66 positive cases among 3,037 students it tested before allowing them to move into residence halls and campus apartments.
Iowa State, which is expecting more than 9,000 on-campus residents this fall, began its expanded move-in process July 31 and will continue through Sunday.
Of the total 6,509 students tested through Thursday, 141 were positive and 6,368 were negative — maintaining an overall positivity rate of 2.2 percent.
Iowa State and the University of Northern Iowa begin their fall semesters Monday — after deciding over the summer to begin a week earlier than planned so they can end the term before Thanksgiving.
The University of Iowa is sticking with its original academic calendar for fall — beginning classes Aug. 24 and wrapping finals week Dec. 18 — although all instruction after the Nov. 23 Thanksgiving recess will happen virtually.
All three institutions wanted to avoid students returning to campus after engaging in high-risk travel.
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And all three are employing a range of COVID-19 mitigation measures, like mandating face coverings, limiting room occupancy, curtailing in-person events, offering hybrid options, and employing heightened sanitation practices across the campuses.
All three also are offering COVID-19 testing for symptomatic students, faculty and staff and for those who’ve had direct contact with someone who tested positive.
But Iowa State is the only one of the three requiring students get tested before moving into the residence halls.
UI officials have said they aren’t requiring the tests because they’re not recommended by federal and state health officials and could give students a false sense of security.
UI officials said tests cost about $100 each, require significant staff and space resources and can results in false positives and negatives.
ISU shares test strategy
ISU officials, in discussing their strategy Friday, stressed the university’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory is conducting the testing using a “very sensitive and accurate methodology to detect the virus.” The lab is certified for human clinical work and follows federal guidance, according to lab director Rodger Main.
“Students and their families can be confident in the accuracy of the test results,” Main said in a statement. “The test is extremely sensitive and can detect minute levels of the virus.”
All positive results are reviewed for confirmation, according to Erin Baldwin, interim senior vice president of student affairs and director of the school’s Thielen Student Health Center.
Because Iowa State’s test is “extremely sensitive,” it might find a sample positive where another less-sensitive test might not. Those results, according to Baldwin, aren’t false positives but rather differences attributable to the sensitivity of the test being used.
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In reporting the consistent 2.2 percent positivity rate, ISU officials commented that’s “well within the expected range of infection, given the current infection rates in the counties, states, and countries where university students are arriving from.”
The goal, according to Iowa State, is to catch positive cases and eliminate potential exposures to mitigate COVID-19 spread on campus.
derecho delays REsults
The ISU lab, which ran into some power issues following Monday’s derecho, typically turns around results within 24 hours. The storm delayed results until Thursday — although all still are being reported to the Iowa Department of Public Health.
Due to this week’s delays, some roommates might have crossed paths before learning their results.
All those who test positive must isolate. Contact tracers find significant contacts and instruct them to quarantine. The campus has reserved space in its residence halls for students needing to isolate and quarantine — although they also have the option to do so at home. Fewer than half of those who’ve tested positive through the move-in process are isolating on campus, officials said.
“We understand that receiving news that you need to isolate or quarantine is stressful for our students and families, especially when this impacts participation in campus events and classes,” Baldwin said in a statement. “We have built systems to support our students during this time period and will provide flexibility while they navigate coursework virtually.”
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