CORONAVIRUS

University of Iowa coronavirus cases among highest on U.S. campuses

UI sees evidence surge has 'started to plateau'

Socially distanced protest for online only at University of Iowa this fall. (Vanessa Miller/The Gazette)
Socially distanced protest for online only at University of Iowa this fall. (Vanessa Miller/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — In just two days, the University of Iowa added 253 more self-reported cases of COVID-19 among students, bringing the total just two weeks into the semester to 1,395 — among the highest on college campuses in the nation.

The UI also reported three more cases among employee, for 19 total, and framed the news as an “improvement” after seeing a “disappointing spike in COVID-19 cases last week.”

“Both Johnson County and the University of Iowa are seeing an improvement in the number of daily positive cases,” according to a campus message. “UI Health Care administrators say the numbers have started to plateau.”

The report comes days after nearly 1,000 UI faculty, staff and students pledged to participate in a “sickout” by calling in sick to protest the administration’s refusal to move all classes online.

UI officials could not confirm how many people actually participated in the sickout, but in an open letter to administrators, protest organizers reported being flooded with messages and stories of how the campus’ reopening has negatively impacting their lives.

“Every faculty member we spoke to had at least one student with COVID-19 in their classes,” according to that letter, which re-upped the demand for virtual classes only. “Several told us that more than 10 percent of their students were in quarantine. A faculty member told us that she doesn’t know how to prepare for the possibility that one of her students may pass away this semester.”

UI officials said they’re monitoring several metrics in deciding how to proceed with the semester that just began Aug. 24 — which is being offered in a hybrid fashion, with about 76 percent of classes online.

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And, on Friday, they reported several metrics were “holding steady,” including staffing levels, residence hall capacity, classroom availability, testing supplies for symptomatic patients, contract tracing efforts, protective equipment supplies and disinfecting materials.

“We are encouraged by the improvement, but urge you to remain diligent about avoiding large crowds and social gatherings or the number of positive cases will again increase,” according to the message, which came after students earlier this month were seen crowded in downtown bars without many masks or much social distancing.

According to the campus message, UI administrators will “continue to monitor the positive case rate and will make necessary adjustments if the rate increases.”

“Any adjustment will be made in coordination with the Johnson County Public Health, the Iowa Department of Public Health, and the Board of Regents, State of Iowa.”

UNI and ISU

The University of Northern Iowa also Friday updated campus COVID-19 numbers, adding another 35 cases for a total of 105 three weeks into the semester there.

But those new cases are for a period with an end date that has not yet arrived — Sunday.

And UNI’s faculty union sent an email Thursday to fellow faculty and administrators, voicing concern about data the campus is releasing.

“The data reported are only for tests given at the Student Health Center,” according to the letter. “They don’t include self-reported or tests reported to the county.”

UNI isn’t breaking down its numbers by students and employees — like the UI and Iowa State University, which also are reporting positive tests from campus testing and from self-reported positives received off site, like via Test Iowa.

UNI “is claiming that sharing more data would violate privacy laws, but we don’t buy it,” according to UNI’s United Faculty leaders. “Check out COVID dashboards at other universities, cities, and counties who do openly share much more. United Faculty has filed a formal information request for access to more data and is prepared to file a Prohibited Practice Complaint if necessary.”

Among the worst

The New York Times this week published a map tracking coronavirus cases at U.S. colleges and universities, finding more than 51,000 cases at over 1,020 campuses.

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The highest tally as of Thursday was 1,367 for the University of Alabama system. That system reported Friday its main University of Alabama campus in Tuscaloosa had 1,201 cases through Aug. 27.

ISU, upon its last COVID-19 update Monday, was recording 1,036 self-reported student cases.

ISU also as of Monday reported that nearly 750 members of its faculty, staff and student community were in isolation after becoming sick or testing positive. Another nearly 800 were in quarantine for being exposed.

The UI is not reporting the total members of its campus community who are in quarantine and isolation, although it reported Friday that 97 residence hall students are in isolation and 15 residence hall students are in quarantine.

Although ISU is not reporting how many students are isolating or quarantining in its dorms, the campus reported 18 percent and 31 percent of its quarantine and isolation room capacity is in use.

UNI is not reporting any isolation and quarantine numbers for students in its halls.

Message of thanks

UI President Bruce Harreld this week, while acknowledging the unprecedented times, issued a campuswide “message of thanks.”

“Though the semester has only just begun, the path that we are on is not an easy one, and it has already required tremendous effort from staff, faculty, and students just to arrive at this moment,” Harreld wrote. “In times like this, it is sometimes difficult to get out of bed, let alone focus on your courses or research. But Hawkeyes persevere. For that, I am grateful every day.”

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

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