In the final three days of Iowa State’s weekslong process to move more than 8,000 students into its 18 residence halls, the university found another 34 students with COVID-19 — meaning a total of 175 ISU students started the term in mandatory isolation, with their close contacts in quarantine.
Iowa State — the only of Iowa’s three public universities that made students get tested before moving into its residence halls — performed a total of 8,094 tests, returning a 2.2 percent positivity rate.
Everyone who tested positive had to isolate either in space reserved in the ISU residence halls or at home. They also had to cooperate with contact tracers to identify those they could have infected, who now should be in quarantine — which the campus also has saved space in its halls to accommodate.
The goal, according to Thielen Student Health Center Director Erin Baldwin, was to “to identify positive cases and quickly intervene to mitigate the spread of infection.”
“This effort wouldn’t have been possible without many campus partners, including the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, which rapidly analyzed a high volume of testing samples.”
In the first week of ISU move-in, from July 31 to Aug. 6, the university tested 3,037 students and found 66 positive cases. From Aug. 7-13 — which included delays due to the derecho — it tested 3,472 and found 75 positive cases.
About half the positive students required to isolate for 10 days did so on campus, while the other half did or are doing so at home. Students moving in after the scheduled dates before classes started Monday still are being required to take a COVID-19 test.
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University of Northern Iowa, which also started its fall semester Monday, didn’t make its on-campus residents get tested before moving in. University of Iowa also isn’t making its students take a test before move-in, which is happening all week in advance of its fall semester start next Monday.
UI, in justifying its decision not to test, said testing students upon arrival to campus isn’t advised by federal and state experts — in that it can create a false sense of security, produce inaccurate results and require significant resources.
Some UI students, faculty and staff have decried the decision, while others have suggested the administration is smart to stick to other mitigation measures — like mandated face coverings, social distancing protocols and ramped-up sanitation practices.
All three campuses are doing those things, plus offering testing throughout the semester to those with symptoms or who have been in contact with a positive case.
Iowa State on Tuesday committed to continuing to report weekly updates on testing and results throughout the semester. The other campuses have not made such commitments to report testing results of students, faculty and staff.
“We continue to evaluate other testing strategies for the fall semester and may modify the approach based on advances in testing technology,” Kristen Obbink, ISU’s COVID-19 public health coordinator, said in a statement. “ISU’s public health team will provide contact tracing and case management throughout the fall semester to help reduce the spread of infection.”
Test results are among the metrics Iowa State will use to monitor and assess campus conditions throughout the semester. The aim, according to Obbink, is to intervene where possible.
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