White House coronavirus task force encourages Iowa universities to increase testing

In Sunday’s White House coronavirus task force, Iowa City was one of three counties making up 35 percent of the state’s total cases. This high volume has Iowa City labeled as a red zone county and the report calls for universities to mandate more mitigation measures.

Lauren White, Politics Reporter

In the most recent report from the White House coronavirus task force, Iowa has been shown to be in the red zone, meaning that there have been more than 100 new cases per 100,000 people, holding the distinction of the highest rate in the country. 

According to the report, Polk County, Story County, and Johnson County have the highest number of new cases, making up 35.3 percent of all positives. As of Monday, Ames and Iowa City are also, in that order, the two cities with the greatest number of new cases compared to population in the last two weeks nationwide, according to the New York Times.

The report calls for Iowa’s university towns to dramatically ramp up testing, contact tracing, and isolation plans.

“University towns need a comprehensive plan that scales immediately for testing all returning students with routine surveillance testing to immediately identify new cases and outbreaks and isolate and quarantine,” the report said. 

The University of Iowa did not test students when moving into the residence halls, and students are currently only eligible for a test when they have symptoms or have been exposed to someone who tested positive. 

President Bruce Harreld said at a meeting with Undergraduate Student Government last week that the university would begin testing any students that request a test, though he offered no timeline, and it hasn’t gone into effect yet.

The task force recommends that universities “ensure both diagnostic and surveillance testing are rapid and comprehensive at all universities with students on campus.”

University students with or exposed to COVID-19 should have access to quarantine and isolation sites on or near campus and not return home, the report said. It recommends all long-term care sites have testing capacity and test staff weekly to prevent spread from students to residents through staff. 

The report recommends that bars be closed in 61 counties, and restaurants limited to 50 percent in counties in the “yellow zone,” and 25 percent in counties in the “red zone.” It also says a statewide mask mandate should be implemented.

Last week, Gov. Kim Reynolds issued a mandate that required six counties, including the counties home to Iowa’s public universities, to close down bars and required restaurants in those counties to stop serving alcohol after 10 p.m.