CORONAVIRUS

University of Iowa reports hundreds of COVID-19 complaints, as police respond to house parties

The Pentacrest on the campus of the University of Iowa including the Old Capitol Building (center), Macbride Hall (top l
The Pentacrest on the campus of the University of Iowa including the Old Capitol Building (center), Macbride Hall (top left), Jessup Hall (bottom left), Schaeffer Hall (top right), and MacLean Hall (bottom right) in an aerial photograph in Iowa City on Monday, Sep. 17, 2018. (The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Over the last two weeks, the University of Iowa has received more than 450 complaints related to violations of the campus’ COVID-19-related student safety expectations – including seven reports of failure to isolate or quarantine following a positive test or close contact with a confirmed case.

And Iowa City police over the weekend handled a rash of loud party, noise, and COVID-19-related complaints as the UI tally of coronavirus cases topped 2,000 since Aug. 18.

UI – including Monday and Friday reports – has added 41 more student cases since Wednesday, bringing that total to 1,985. It added six more employee cases over the same period, bringing its worker sum to 44 on the semester.

Iowa State University on Monday reported another 68 new COVID-19 cases in a week among students and employees from both on- and off-campus testing, its lowest weekly tally – bringing its campus total since Aug. 1 to 1,701.

University of Northern Iowa, updated its numbers to total 163 via on-campus testing since Aug. 17. UNI is reporting 78 self-reported cases since Sept. 1, although some of those could be duplicated in the on-campus test tally.

UI officials last week touted measures state and local officials have taken to curb the COVID-19 spread across campus – including the governor’s Aug. 27 order shuttering bars and prohibiting alcohol sales after 10 p.m. in, among others, Johnson, Story, and Black Hawk counties, home to UI, ISU, and UNI.

Gov. Kim Reynolds extended that order in just Johnson and Story counties through this coming weekend – with the mandate now set to expire Oct. 4.

Police complaints

Although university officials have praised the bar closure as helping prevent spread among students, Iowa City police over the weekend took numerous calls about loud parties, COVID violations, and noise complaints at apartments, nearby houses, and fraternities, according to an activity log.

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Officers responded to a “frat house with more than 10 people” for a “COVID complaint” at 11:46 p.m. Thursday, issuing a verbal warning. At the same time that night, they logged a separate disturbance and noise complaint at the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity.

They responded to the same area at 11:30 p.m. Saturday for another “COVID complaint,” this time identifying Phi Gamma Delta as the offending fraternity.

UI officials already this fall have investigated and sanctioned several Greek chapters for violating COVID-student expectations.

Police over the weekend also took numerous complaints of “huge parties” at various apartment complexes and houses across the community, issuing warnings and cataloging happenings that – in a normal fall – would amount to typical college-community antics.

Those reports included the following descriptions:

Loud party at two nearby town houses with people “going between the alley to each party,” at 12:27 a.m. Friday;

“Large party and not socially distancing, also loud,” at 11:09 p.m. Friday;

“Large party, underage drinking, no one social distancing, started around 1400,” at 3:57 p.m. Saturday;

“Huge party in the courtyard and not social distancing” at 12 a.m. Sunday;

“Huge parties in the garage” at 12:25 a.m. Sunday;          

And “Loud party with yelling and thumping around” at 12:52 Sunday, among other noise and party complaints.

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One 19-year-old listed in the UI student directory was cited for disorderly house at 12:27 Friday after police were called to his house again.

“Approximately 30 people were standing outside on porch and immediately ran inside when police car was seen,” according to a police report. “Numerous beer cans and red Solo cups are spread out on the yard. Numerous noise warnings have previously been issued to this location.”

Interim Iowa City Police Chief Denise Brotherton said noise and party complaints are up this year over last fall – although that could be due to heightened sensitivity related to COVID.

“Where before we only got calls from those really large loud parties, now we get called when they're not quite as large – because people are concerned about social distancing or people not following the rules,” Brotherton said.

People also aren’t downtown right now, she said, reporting the typically bustling Iowa City pedestrian mall and surrounding streets have stayed mostly quiet since the bar closure.

“Our loud parties in the past, they may not have picked up until after bar close,” she said, adding, “They may just be earlier.”

Officers over the weekend did take two COVID complaints at downtown businesses – including Pints at 118 S Clinton St. at 12:40 a.m. Saturday and Rise at Riverfront at 435 S. Linn St. at 10:32 p.m. Saturday.

“Lots of people,” an officer wrote in the activity log.

The complaint for Pints reported people inside drinking and playing darts – although doors were locked and no sales were happening. An earlier complaint, which police determined was unfounded, reported Pints had opened – despite the bar ban.

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Officers so far have taken an educational – rather than punitive – approach to enforcing an Iowa City mask mandate and social distancing guidance, Brotherton said.

“And that’s been working,” she said, reporting Iowa City and UI police partnered over the weekend on educating those seen out potentially violating safety policies.

UI complaints

UI has created an online form for community members to report violations of campus health and distancing guidelines and “student behavioral expectations” – which everyone was expected to agree to following pre-semester COVID-19 training new this year.

Since Sept. 11, when UI reported 256 complaints of failure to social distance, wear a face covering, follow guest policy expectations, and comply with quarantine and isolation orders – 36 of which were verified, 106 of which were cleared, and 114 of which were pending review – the university has taken another 452 more complaints.

Most of those – 192 and 186 respectively – related to failure to social distance or wear a face covering. A total 84 were found to have violated UI policy, with 66 receiving disciplinary reprimand, 17 getting a written warning, and one ordered to take a bystander course.

Another 67 reports related to the university’s guest policy, which limits the number of people residence hall students can have in their rooms – with 18 reprimanded, five warned, and 25 cleared, with another 19 still pending review.

And the university took seven complaints of failure to quarantine or isolate – with two students reprimanded, one warned, two cleared, and two more pending review.

In total, UI still is reviewing 165 of the new complaints.

Of the 30,000-plus UI students asked to complete COVID-19 training and sign an acknowledgement at the start of the school year, 90.6 percent – or 27,438 – have done so, with completion rates higher among the UI colleges with more undergraduate students.

“Students who fail to complete the required training will receive a hold on their ability to register for future semesters until the training has been completed,” according to a UI spokeswoman Anne Bassett.

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Regarding required employee COVID-19 training, 4,809 of 6,443 have completed it – or 75 percent – excluding UI Health Care workers, who went through separate training.

UI employees have until Oct. 21 to complete it, and human resources is reaching out to those who haven’t, officials said.

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

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