IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa — like Iowa State and the University of Northern Iowa — is amending its quarantine practices to align with updated state public health guidance that frees business, education, and child care settings from advised quarantine if face coverings were used consistently and correctly during COVID-19 close contacts.
The Iowa Department of Public Health on Sept. 29 announced quarantine no longer is advised if both COVID-19-positive individuals and their close contacts wore face coverings — affecting, among other things, mask-mandatory in-person classes that had been shifting online or forcing students to do so if a classmate or instructor tested positive.
“University data do not show evidence of transmission in the classroom, where face coverings are required,” according to a UI message Monday updating its quarantine guidance. “We do not expect the revised guidance to have a significant impact on the number of individuals at Iowa required to quarantine.”
Upon announcing its change per state and county guidance Monday, UI reported it now has no residence hall students in quarantine and three COVID-19-positive students in isolation in its residence system — which is holding space for those needing to quarantine for two weeks or isolate for 10 days.
Those numbers had been low for weeks. And UI doesn’t report total numbers of faculty, staff and students in isolation and quarantine — like at Iowa State, which has seen its totals continue to drop since changing its quarantine practices Sept. 30 to align with the new state guidance.
For the two-week period from Oct. 5 to Oct. 18, 142 members of the ISU community were in quarantine, 24 of whom eventually tested positive. That total was down from 178 for the two weeks prior and nearly 400 during the two weeks from Sept. 7 to Sept. 20.
ISU COVID-19 case totals, like at UI and UNI, have been falling in recent weeks — with Iowa State reporting a record-low 22 over the last week. With those new cases, Iowa State has tallied 1,831 since Aug. 1 — including both on- and off-campus testing and mandatory move-in screening.
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Iowa State on Oct. 9 announced plans to begin random student testing — in an effort to identify asymptomatic cases and further quell the virus’ spread. Numbers from that random testing have not yet been reported.
UI on Monday reported 16 new cases since Friday, for a total of 2,161 since Aug. 18.
UNI on Monday updated its self-reported COVID-19 total to 136 since Sept. 1, when it started seeking self-reported positives from its campus community. UNI is reporting 18 students in Department of Residence quarantine and fewer than six in residence hall isolation.
That campus, like Iowa State, amended its quarantine protocols Sept. 30 — following new state public health guidance — to remove the mandate for those whose close contacts involved appropriate face coverings.
In making that move, UNI analyzed its quarantine trends for students whose close contact came in the classroom and found of its 411 students told to steer clear of others for two weeks due to in-class exposure, 335 took a COVID-19 test, and five or fewer tested positive.
Before the campuses changed quarantine practices to align with state guidance, all three advised students to follow U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quarantine guidelines — which have not changed for individuals who’ve never been infected before.
Although the CDC now says people who’ve had COVID-19 don’t need to quarantine or get tested again for up to three months — as long as they don’t have symptoms — the center still advises everyone else quarantine if they’ve been within 6 feet of someone who has it for 15 minutes or more. CDC guidance doesn’t include a caveat for face coverings.
The federal guidance also advises quarantine for those who have provided home care to a COVID-19-positive individual, hugged or kissed a positive person, shared eating or drinking utensils with one, or been coughed or sneezed on by a confirmed positive person.
Quarantine involves staying home for 14 days after the last contact, staying away from others, and watching for fever, cough or shortness of breath.
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The state’s amended quarantine guidance still advises contacted individuals self-monitor — even if everyone involved in a COVID-19-related connection wore masks appropriately and consistently. And it still advises quarantine in cases where one of the parties wasn’t wearing a mask at all or correctly.
UI also this week is shifting its face covering policy to align with updated CDC and state guidance on how the virus spreads and how to most effectively prevent it. Face shields or gaiters alone no longer will qualify as appropriate face coverings beginning Friday.
Students, faculty, staff, and visitors will be required to wear masks in all UI buildings and spaces — including outdoors when distancing isn’t possible. That change brings UI in line with ISU and UNI practices and procedures.
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