Iowa State to start random student COVID-19 testing

Those who comply will be rewarded with gift card

A student is let into the Lied Recreation Center for COVID-19 testing before moving into a campus housing location Aug.
A student is let into the Lied Recreation Center for COVID-19 testing before moving into a campus housing location Aug. 3 at Iowa State University in Ames. The university announced Friday that students would be selected randomly for asymptomatic testing. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

Iowa State University, among its efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 on campus, is beginning random testing of select students and rewarding them via gift card for compliance.

Undergraduate, graduate, and professional students will be randomly chosen for asymptomatic testing via email or text message that will include instructions on when to come to Johnny’s in Hilton Coliseum to comply, according to a Friday message from ISU President Wendy Wintersteen.

The proactive testing makes ISU the only of Iowa’s three public universities to take that route — as University of Iowa and University of Northern Iowa are only offering testing for symptomatic students, faculty, and staff or those who have had close contact with a positive case.

ISU also was the only of the three to require students get tested proactively upon move-in to its residence halls. During that screening, Iowa State identified 175 students with COVID-19 who then had to isolate — either in on-campus housing or at home.

Like UI and UNI, Iowa State has been reporting fewer and fewer campus cases in recent weeks — possibly helped by the governor’s closure of bars in its county. On the same day bars reopened Monday, Iowa State reported its lowest weekly tally of new cases, 53, bringing its total since Aug. 1 to 1,754.

UI has a total of 2,100 campus cases, and UNI has a total of 164 through on-campus testing — although that doesn’t include cases identified through off-campus sites.

Upon the first Friday night after Gov. Kim Reynolds reopened bars in Johnson and Story counties, home to UI and ISU respectively, students were back out in force in Iowa City. In that bars were doing more to mandate distancing inside the establishments, capping capacity and keeping tables apart, lines outside were long early.


In Wintersteen’s message announcing her campus’ random testing, she praised the students for “doing your part to practice and model our health and safety measures.”

She said the new random testing strategy aims to identify asymptomatic cases and use the testing data “to pinpoint areas with notable case counts and determine appropriate testing strategies for those areas to help contain the spread of the virus.”

Although compliance with the random testing isn’t mandatory, Wintersteen said, “We strongly encourage that you take this request seriously and complete your test as directed.”

“This testing strategy is not intended to punish anyone,” she wrote. “Students who are selected should not fear disciplinary action for doing the responsible thing to complete the testing.”

As an incentive, and a “show of appreciation,” Iowa State is giving $5 gift cards to ISU Dining to students who complete the random testing. They also will be entered in a drawing for larger prizes — including 10 $50 ISU Dining gift cards, 10 $500 scholarships, a one-semester Department of Residence housing contract, and a one-semester ISU Dining contract.

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