CORONAVIRUS

University of Iowa COVID-19 case tally reaches 1,621, with 53 more in two days

'We have considerably slowed the spread of the disease'

People wear masks and hold signs outside the University of Iowa Memorial Union during an Aug. 10 protest against in-pers
People wear masks and hold signs outside the University of Iowa Memorial Union during an Aug. 10 protest against in-person classes amid the coronavirus pandemic. The UI on Wednesday reported 53 new cases of COVID-19 on campus in the past two days, a sharp decline, which has officials hoping the spread of the coronavirus has been slowed. (Associated Press)

IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa on Wednesday reported another 53 cases of COVID-19 on campus in the last two days — which included the Labor Day holiday that saw less testing in Johnson County and statewide.

The new 52 student cases of COVID-19 self-reported since Monday bring the UI student total to 1,621 since Aug. 18 — among the highest campus tallies across U.S. higher education.

The one additional UI employee who tested positive brings that total to 21 for the semester, which is happening in hybrid fashion — with an emphasis on in-person learning but with three-quarters of undergraduate instruction happening online.

In that the bulk of the UI total of coronavirus cases came in late August — shortly after students returned to campus and were seen partying and barhopping without masks or distancing — UI officials are expressing optimism around an apparent “plateau of self-reported positive cases.”

“While it is certainly not time to celebrate, it should be acknowledged that, as a community, we have considerably slowed the spread of the disease,” according to a Wednesday afternoon campus message. “The data also shows that the spread of the disease is not occurring in UI classrooms, as a total of 21 faculty and staff have self-reported as positive.”

When viewed in the context of more than 12,000 employees, the university is reporting a positive infection rate in that group of less than 0.16 percent.

“The spread of the disease has been minimized in classrooms due to proactive steps the university has taken,” according to the campus message, listing face coverings, plexiglass barriers and air filtration changes.

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Gov. Kim Reynolds — in response to behavior in Iowa City, Ames and Black Hawk counties, among other college and urban centers — closed bars and halted alcohol sales after 10 p.m. in COVID-surging communities Aug. 27 through Sept. 20, a move UI officials credited as a “critical component in the decreased transmission.”

“The data illustrates that the increased spread of COVID-19 in the community has been confined primarily to the college-age population,” according to the campus message, addressing concerns from community members about potential infection in the higher-risk older population.

“The rate of positive tests outside of this age group remained consistent over the past three weeks in comparison to the previous three weeks.”

Some UI students, faculty, and staff have continued to demand the university move all classes online for the rest of the semester — citing rising case numbers and health risks for instructors. But UI officials so far have rejected those calls.

“While we expect new outbreaks may occur, we are confident the spread of the disease can be minimized if the University of Iowa and greater Iowa City community continues to follow public health guidelines,” according to Wednesday’s message.

Big Ten peers

Although campuses nationally are reporting different data in different formats, UI numbers appear to outpace most Big Ten peers — some of which are conducting proactive, random sample testing, like Ohio State University, the University of Illinois, Penn State University and the University of Maryland.

Examples include:

University of Minnesota: 124 cases in students and employees between March 17 and Sept. 3 via on-campus testing.

University of Michigan: 52 cases in the last two weeks and 344 since March 8.

Penn State: 433 cases since Aug. 7 from on-demand testing and random screenings.

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University of Nebraska: 393 cases since Aug. 12.

Ohio State University: 1,500 student cases since Aug. 14. The university is doing random-sample testing and has tested more than 40,300 students since Aug. 14.

The University of Iowa did not require students to have a coronavirus test before moving into its residence halls — like at Iowa State, other universities and regional private colleges like Coe in Cedar Rapids.

It also is not conducting random testing, like at some Big Ten peers and Mount Vernon’s Cornell College.

UI officials have not shared publicly total tests performed on campus, or a positive rate.

And although UI officials have said they strongly urge students and employees to self-report positive cases and work with Johnson County Public Health contact tracers, they can’t force them to report due to privacy laws.

On Wednesday, the university reported 73 residence hall students are in isolation — meaning they tested positive or are presumed to have the virus — and nine are in quarantine for having had close contact with some one who tested positive.

Those numbers are down from Monday’s 15 and 97, respectively, indicating some students have been released.

The UI is updating its COVID-campus totals three times a week — on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa are updating theirs once a week, on Monday and Friday, respectively.

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Iowa State’s most recent update Monday showed 325 more cases among students, faculty and staff. It’s reported 1,475 since Aug. 1 — including the 175 it identified through testing of students moving into its residence halls.

UNI’s Friday update put its COVID-19 total since Aug. 17 at 115.

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

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