UI cancels events, UIHC to screen patients and visitors to mitigate COVID-19 risks

Following COVID-19 confirmed cases in Johnson County, the University of Iowa and University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics is updating policies and procedures in order to exert caution over community members. Changes include enhanced hospital visitor-screening services, and the closing of campus recreation centers.


Hayden Froehlich

Johnson County Public Health Director Dave Koch speaks during a press conference about COVID-19 at the Joint Emergency Communications Center on Thursday, March 12, 2020.

Mary Hartel, News Reporter

In response to the growing spread and public concern over COVID-19, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics is increasing screening protocol for patient visitors in attempts to mitigate transmission. The UI also announced the cancellation of all nonessential in-person events and closure of all recreational services effective March 16 through at least April 3. 

At a March 13 press conference held at the Johnson County Emergency Operations Center, UIHC CEO Suresh Gunasekaran said the hospital is taking measures to maintain full operations in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak, including reducing and screening visitors and staff.

“We are reducing the number of visitors consistent with community protocols to ensure that we are mitigating risks to our patients and our staff,” Gunasekaran said. 

Alongside the many shifts in operations, the hospital will implement mandatory screenings at each entrance, he said. This change is an attempt to mitigate patient and staff risks of contracting the COVID-19 virus.

“It may take you a little bit longer to get into our hospital, but the bottom line is we’d really like to limit the number of visitors for all in-patients,” he said.

Gunasekaran said visitors are encouraged to take advantage of digital methods to keep in-touch with loved ones as screenings will be stringent. 

RELATED: UI Hospitals and Clinics to open new clinic, conduct video doctor visits amid COVID-19 cases

Changes in hospital protocol coincide with the shifts the UI is making in response to COVID-19, said Rod Lehnertz, senior vice president for UI Finance and Operations. 

“We’re so thankful that we’ve got a world class health care system right on our campus,” said Lehnertz, “…but it takes special attention to make sure that we stay ahead of, and address the issue in front of us.”

Along with announcements that the UI will suspend all in-person classes and switch to virtual instruction, for the two weeks following the university’s spring break, all nonessential face to face meetings and events will be canceled during this time.

Groups and events scheduled to take place after April 3, are encouraged to begin considering alternative plans in case these procedures continue in the future, Lehnertz said. 

Lehrnertz said UI campus services such as the hospitals, libraries, housing, and bus systems will remain operating during this time as many community members rely on them.

One exception to this, he said, will be campus recreational facilities, including the Campus Recreation and Wellness Center and the UI Field House. 

 “We recognize that this is an inconvenience for both our campus community as well as our surrounding community, but our primary focus is on the health and safety of the members of our community and practicing appropriate social distance is difficult within the recreation facilities.” Lehnertz said. 

UI admissions is also suspending all on-campus visits, tours, and information sessions for prospective Hawkeyes “indefinitely”. Currently, the UI isn’t taking registration for future campus visits.

At the press conference, other Johnson County community officials emphasized the conjunction of local, state, and national institutions being as proactive as possible when addressing the containment of the virus.  

Johnson County Public Health Director Dave Koch said his department is working closely with other public health forums and hospitals to mitigate the potential impact of COVID-19 on Johnson County.

As of right now there are 14 individuals in Johnson County who tested positive for the virus, he said. Each individual in Johnson County who tested positive for the virus was a passenger on a recent Egyptian cruise.

“At this time there has not been community spread of the illness which means there are not individuals in Johnson County who have tested positive for the virus who are not sure how or where they became infected,” he said.

He said the immediate risk of contracting the virus for the general public is still low.

“We continue to follow the guidance of the Iowa Department of Public Health and at this time IDPH is not making any recommendations to cancel planned events or mass gatherings,” Koch said. “The CDC recommends that event organizers do prepare for the possibility of outbreaks and ensure they have contingency plans in place should the need arise.”