Students at Iowa’s three Regents universities came back to campus in August. On Wednesday, Gov. Kim Reynolds said she’s taking the advice of the White House Coronavirus Task force to develop a testing strategy for college and university students in the state.
The timing of these two developments, obviously, should have been reversed. The testing plan should have been in place long before students returned to campus. Once again, the governor is offering reactive rather than proactive leadership as the pandemic worsens in Iowa.
Iowa is now among the nation’s coronavirus hot spots, and Johnson and Story County, home to the University of Iowa and Iowa State University, are the hottest spots in the state. And the schools’ differing approaches to controlling the virus have led to confusion and consternation, and virus spread.
Iowa State tested incoming students. Iowa did not, with officials contending they are following CDC guidelines indicating testing would lead to a false sense of security. Iowa State requires students to self-report positive tests, but UI only strongly advise reporting. The difference is that Story County health officials put ISU in charge of campus contact tracing but Johnson County health officials are handling tracing in Iowa City.
ISU, a member of the Big 12 Conference, is playing football this fall. Iowa, a member of the Big Ten Conference, is not, at least not yet. ISU planned to allow 25,000 fans into its home opener Saturday, but wisely abandoned the idea. But before they reversed course, Reynolds defended the plan.
It seems to us that the Board of Regents remains the governing body directing our state universities. And yet a spokesman for the board told The Gazette’s Vanessa Miller this week that the board is leaving reporting and testing details up to the universities. That sounds more like an abdication of governing.
Why was no coordinated testing and tracing program developed for all three universities long before students returned to campus? Why is there no coordinated policy on reporting positive tests? Why didn’t the Regents create a uniform system for reporting critical information to students, parents and the public?
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We understand the value of allowing leaders on each campus to handle conditions as they develop, a responsibility the governor took away from local school districts. But the universities should have started out guided by the same basic plan for handling the virus.
Instead, UI and ISU are on the brink of another lost semester, with a rising chorus of concerned voices calling for all online-only instruction as cases surge. With better, proactive leadership and planning, it didn’t have to be this way.
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