Eva Sileo, a senior at the University of Iowa, was surprised to learn that her school would not be testing students as they returned to campus at the start of the semester.
“I think it is profoundly irresponsible” Sileo told CNN. “It scares me a lot that they’ve brought 30,000 people back to campus from all over the world and they really have no concept of what level of exposure they were putting into this community from the get-go.”
Since the university started tracking cases on August 18, 1,395 students and 19 employees have tested positive for Covid-19, including 253 new student cases on September 2. The university has made clear on its Covid-19 dashboard that its tally only includes self-reported cases.
“Our numbers are clearly terrifying,” associate professor Naomi Greyser told CNN. “They’re really scary and my students are scared.”
In a statement to CNN, university spokeswoman Jeneane Beck said, “Iowa City and Johnson County, like other college communities across the nation, experienced a growth in COVID-19 cases due to the increased student population. While we are disappointed, campus leadership was prepared for this possibility and is monitoring the metrics established to determine if the university needs to change course.”
Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague told CNN on Wednesday that “we have a 30% positivity rate just within the 24-hour period.”
Even before students arrived, the university defended its decision to not test students at the start of the semester.
“One-time testing only provides data for a specific point in time and can miss cases in the early stages of infection, giving students a false sense of security,” the school said in an August 3 news release. “One-time testing requires significant resources, including trained staff to conduct the tests, personal protective equipment, and physical space for conducting testing safely and ensuring privacy.”
Beck said the school’s decision on testing is supported by CDC guidelines for higher education institutions released June 30.
Those guidelines say “entry testing” at colleges and universities hasn’t been systematically studied and it’s unknown if it provides any additional reduction in person-to-person transmission of the virus beyond what would be expected with implementation of social distancing, face masks, and other safety measures.
“Therefore, CDC does not recommend entry testing of all returning students, faculty, and staff,” the CDC said.
However, the nation’s leading expert on infectious disease has said he thinks colleges should test incoming students.
Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN that testing everyone at the start of the semester is part of what makes for a successful reopening.
Associate professor Jennifer Buckley disagrees with the school policy on testing. She isn’t teaching this semester but attended planning meetings with the university president and the dean of public health because she’s a member of the Faculty Council and the English Executive Committee.
“Given the rising case numbers many of us are just so deeply distressed by the flawed planning, and the implementation of a Covid response plan that doesn’t really take into account the chance that students would come to campus infected by the virus,” Buckley said. “We knew that probability was 100%.”
PPE kits issued to students
Instead of testing students when they arrived on campus, the university provided every student with a protective equipment kit. The kit contained two reusable cloth face coverings, two disposable masks, one face shield and one small bottle of hand sanitizer.
According to its website, the university only recommends testing for students with symptoms or a known exposure. Sileo says the university must first approve the request to get a test through a telemedicine visit.
“I know numerous people who have gone through this process and the one thing I’ve heard from all of them is that getting approved requires multiple phone calls and a lot of waiting on hold and re-explaining,” Sileo told CNN.
Beck said that once a student has spoken with a heath care professional, if they are symptomatic or considered a close contact, they receive a testing appointment with University of Iowa Healthcare.
Students who test positive are supposed to log onto the school’s online reporting tool and self-isolate for 10 days. The Johnson County Public Health Department is in charge of contact tracing.<