CORONAVIRUS

University of Northern Iowa reports employee has coronavirus

University of Iowa planning on in-person classes come fall

The gateway of the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
The gateway of the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

A University of Northern Iowa employee has tested positive for COVID-19, marking the campus’ the first self-reported coronavirus case, according to a message from UNI President Mark Nook.

The infected employee was last on the Cedar Falls campus more than 30 days ago, and that person — who has not been identified publicly — has been self-isolating off campus, according to Nook’s Thursday message.

He sent the campuswide communication about the positive case because the person chose to report it to the institution and because it was UNI’s first.

“However, we do not expect to report additional confirmed cases through campuswide messages moving forward,” Nook said, adding, “Our thoughts are with this member of the UNI community at this time.”

The University of Iowa on March 19 issued its first message about a COVID-19-positive community member — a UI dentistry student who had seen a patient while symptomatic.

UI officials at that time also said they were reporting the incident because the infected student self-reported to them, and they did not intend to issue a campus communication every time one of its employees tested positive.

The general UI campus has not announced any more positive cases — although UI Health Care on Friday reported 64 of its employees have tested positive for COVID-19.

Iowa State University has not announced any positive tests among its faculty, staff or students.

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All three of the state’s public universities have taken immense measures to curtail the coronavirus spread, including canceling in-person classes for the rest of the semester and moving all curriculum online.

The campuses also have urged employees to telecommute, and they’ve canceled in-person meetings and events, including all commencement ceremonies.

UNI LOCKDOWN?

Those celebrations will be held online this spring — with graduates invited to walk in a future commencement. In a follow-up message Friday, UNI piggybacked on Gov. Kim Reynolds’ Thursday proclamation directing employers in northeast Iowa to take additional steps to ensure employees are working from home by announcing it is evaluating teleworking for employees and locking campus buildings.

“We ask all supervisors and employees to continue to evaluate the extent to which they can feasibly work from home,” according to the UNI communication. “COVID-19 is beginning to spread quickly in northeast Iowa, and our goal is to ensure that our employees and students stay as healthy as possible and continue to flatten the curve.”

As of Thursday, Black Hawk County — home to UNI — had 138 COVID-19 cases and reported its first death Friday. Johnson County, home to the University of Iowa, had 246 cases and three deaths. And Story County, home to ISU, had 17 cases and no deaths.

UI IN THE FALL

University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld on Friday sent a message to his campus acknowledging some colleges and universities across the country have announced plans to extend their virtual operations and academics through the upcoming fall semester.

“UI leadership is trying to figure out exactly when it will be safe and appropriate to return to ‘normal,’ ” Harreld wrote in his message. “Though the future is not set in stone — and we continue to monitor the latest guidance and information about this pandemic — we ARE planning to resume face-to-face instruction this fall.”

Harreld said the campus is assessing its next steps and has assembled a team to work “diligently and continuously to outline a plan that will bring us back in August.”

That team will follow guidance from state and federal health experts — along with the Board of Regents — as it did in deciding to shift activity online this spring.

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“Within 15 days, the UI canceled study abroad programs, repatriated students, moved to virtual instruction, shifted to work-from-home status, and began the process of closing the residence hall system,” Harreld wrote. “We are confident that this same team will now provide us with the steps necessary to safely reopen.”

The UI team will explore “various options” and remain flexible.

“We must anticipate what we can,” Harreld wrote, “but prepare ourselves to react to what we cannot.”

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

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