IOWA CITY — Neck gaiters and face shields alone won’t cut it as acceptable face coverings at the University of Iowa, which next week will come into alignment with the state’s other public universities by specifying masks.
The new rule doesn’t change where UI students, faculty and staff must wear face coverings: In buildings, classrooms and when outside if not socially distanced, but not if alone in an office or residence hall room. Starting Oct. 23, though, that face covering must include a mask.
The change to make only cloth and disposable masks as qualifying face coverings on campus comes in response to updated guidance from the Iowa Department of Public Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cautioning against the effectiveness of gaiters and face shields alone.
Because COVID-19 has been found to sometimes spread via airborne transmission indoors, where particles of the virus can linger, UI officials said they’ve updated their requirements — but noted individuals still can wear face shields as long as they wear masks, too.
Instructors in some instances can wear shields alone “where instruction requires an unobstructed view of faces and in situations requiring student accommodations” — but they must maintain 6 feet of distance.
Since the pandemic began, UI Health Care has maintained separate face covering guidelines for employees. It currently requires employees to use both a medical-grade mask and shield in all clinical spaces, including inpatient units, procedural rooms, clinics and clinical hallways.
Masks are required in other public spaces, such as cafeterias and non-clinical hallways.
Iowa State University in July required “cloth face coverings” across campus — including in buildings and outside, when social distancing isn’t possible. Likewise, UNI before the start of the fall semester specified masks as “preferred over face shields alone.”
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“Masks are the preferred and safest form of face covering and are required for all students and employees at UNI while in buildings or outdoors when physical distancing is not possible,” according to UNI.
ISU and UNI more recently also updated their quarantine policies to reflect looser requirements.
The Iowa Department of Public Health has advised that two weeks in quarantine no longer is necessary if a person with COVID-19 and a close contact both had on face coverings consistently and correctly during their contact.
Close contact is characterized as within 6 feet for 15 minutes or more.
On Sept. 30, ISU President Wendy Wintersteen reported that of the 1,729 people identified as close contacts since the start of the semester, only 48 had their contact in the classroom and only one of those later tested positive “with evidence pointing to a non-classroom exposure.”
ISU also has been tracking the number of quarantined individuals who later went on to test positive since mid-August. The positivity rate has ranged from a low of 5 percent to a high of 21 percent. In the most recent two-week reporting period that ended Oct. 11, 30 of the 205 close contacts in quarantine tested positive — or about 14 percent.
Although ISU no longer is making individuals quarantine for two weeks if everyone involved in a close contact was wearing a mask the whole time, officials still are advising close contacts to test 48 hours after exposure and report any symptoms.
UNI also announced it will follow the new state guidance that frees individuals from 14 days of quarantine if they and their contact were properly wearing face masks.
The UI has not announced changes that would relax its quarantine policies or practices
On Friday, the UI announced another 17 new COVID-19 cases in the last two days — for a total of 2,145 since Aug. 18. UNI reported another 13 campus cases since Monday via on-campus testing. It does not clearly report positive results from off-campus testing.
ISU will report its latest numbers on Monday.
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