CORONAVIRUS

University of Iowa reports 500 more student COVID-19 cases

Just one week into classes, self-reported student, employee cases reach 618

Bar patrons wait in line in front of Summit in Iowa City on the night of Saturday, August 22, 2020. Bars in Iowa remain
Bar patrons wait in line in front of Summit in Iowa City on the night of Saturday, August 22, 2020. Bars in Iowa remain open as students return to Iowa City for the fall semester. (Nick Rohlman/freelance for The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa on Friday reported another 500 student cases of COVID-19 since the 107 it reported Monday — the first day of its fall semester — bringing the total to 607 just one week into classes and prompting officials to consider “additional actions” if the rate doesn’t flatten next week.

That total only represents self-reported student cases, as officials have said they can’t force anyone to share personal health information. The university Friday also reported seven new employee cases, bringing that tally to 11 since Aug. 18.

The university — which has more than 30,000 students and more than 30,000 employees, although many are learning and working remotely — has said students who also serve as UI employees only are counted in the student totals.

UI started the year with 72 percent of its undergraduate credit hours online — due to a mandate all courses with more than 50 students happen virtually and due to requests from individual instructors. In that many students and faculty already are in mandatory isolation or quarantine, the university on Friday reported 76 percent of undergraduate credit hours now are online.

In acknowledging Iowa City and Johnson County, “like other college communities across the nation,” are seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases, “due to the increased student population,” UI administrators hinted they could consider more drastic action “if the positive case rate does not begin to flatten next week.”

“While we are disappointed, campus leadership was prepared for this possibility and is monitoring the metrics established to determine if the university needs to change course,” according to a campus message Friday.

UI isn’t making any immediate changes in that three-quarters of classes currently are virtual; residence halls remain below capacity; classroom space is available; public health is conducting contact tracing; rigorous cleaning is continuing; and UI has ample personal protective equipment supplies, according to the UI message.

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Plus, officials report, “UI is testing all symptomatic individuals,” although it isn’t conducting widespread asymptomatic testing, and it didn’t test students before they moved into the residence halls — like at Iowa State, which also has seen a spike in cases across its community.

The acceleration of COVID-19 spread in Johnson County — which reported 247 new cases in 24 hours Friday after setting a record with 338 new cases on Thursday — and Story County, home to Iowa State University — which reported 239 new cases Friday, setting its own record — comes after students recently were seen partying without masks or distancing at private homes and bars.

The state on Friday shattered the 1,477 record for new cases in 24 hours it set Thursday by reporting another 2,579 new cases and a new nearly 80 percent positivity rate, the first time the state has had more positive tests than negative tests.

In response to the massive increases — making Iowa the worst state in the country for new COVID-19 cases per capita, according to the New York Times tracker — Gov. Kim Reynolds on Thursday closed all bars, taverns, breweries, and nightclubs until Sept. 20 in six counties, including those home to UI, Iowa State, and University of Northern Iowa, where students also have been captured bar hopping and partying without distance or masks.

The governor’s order also makes restaurants stop serving alcohol after 10 p.m.

ISU has not reported new student and employee COVID-19 numbers since Monday, when it said 130 people had tested positive between Aug. 17 and 23. Of the 10,683 members of the ISU community tested between July 1 and that date, more than 360 tested positive. Between Aug. 1 and 23, more than 160 people of 1,849 tested were found to have the virus.

UNI on Friday afternoon reported of the 225 tests its Student Health Center conducted between Aug. 17 and 27, 62 students, faculty, and staff tested positive. Of that total, 31 are living in on-campus housing in isolation. Another 81 are living in on-campus housing in quarantine because they’ve had close contact with a known positive case.

The University of Iowa on Friday reported 19 of its positive students were living in the residence halls and are in isolation. Another 40 UI residence hall students are in quarantine for 14 days.

Although UI President Bruce Harreld earlier this week publicly criticized the Iowa City business community in an open letter for not doing a better job complying with the governor’s distancing guidance and local mask mandates, the UI message Friday stressed student expectations too.

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It reminded students of the threat of suspension or other penalty for a range of behavior “deemed to be unsafe,” like not wearing a face covering or social distancing; attending gatherings where face coverings aren’t being used or where attendees aren’t staying six feet apart; or failing to comply with isolation or quarantine mandates.

“These expectations are outlined in the student agreement on the Dean of Students website and were shared with all students before their arrival on campus,” according to the UI message. “Students should understand that these procedures are a condition of their continued enrollment at the University of Iowa and that the failure to meet these procedures may be addressed through the Code of Student Life and Accountability Procedure.”

The university also is offering a website to report bad behavior.

Parental leave

The Johnson County surge in cases has prompted the Iowa City Community School District — and other local schools and centers — to request and receive permission to start the K-12 academic year holding virtual classes only.

Acknowledging that “presents many UI employees with the challenge of balancing their children’s education with work demands,” UI administrators on Friday reminded employees of new and existing leave options — including an offering of additional support for parents or caregivers of school-aged children impacted by closures or virtual learning requirements.

All three of Iowa’s public universities has paid leave options and flexible work alternatives for those affected by COVID-19.

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

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