University of Iowa to expand COVID-19 testing capacity for spring semester

At a Faculty Council meeting on Tuesday, UI Campus Health Officer Dan Fick said the university will have more COVID-19 tests in the fall and a surveillance program.


Jeff Sigmund

TEST IOWA site 5455 Kirkwood Blvd S.W. Cedar Rapids.As seen on Wed, August,2020.

Sabine Martin, News Reporter

The University of Iowa will have more COVID-19 tests available for students in the spring semester.

UI Campus Health Officer Dan Fick said at the UI Faculty Council meeting on Tuesday that the UI has been able to acquire more COVID-19 tests for the spring semester than acquired in August. 

Fick did not specify how many COVID-19 tests have been secured for the spring.   

A COVID-19 surveillance program with the UI College of Public Health and epidemiologists from the Iowa state hygienic lab will work to decide what the best method for students to get tested on campus is going forward, Fick said.

Fick said the UI’s COVID-19 plans worked well during the surge of cases at the beginning of the fall semester by working closely with the Johnson County Department of Health.  

“If you have an integrated campus like we do and many of our peers do, it’s just very difficult to keep the [COVID-19 case] numbers down,” he said. “When everybody has students interacting with the community, not everyone, but many people are positive.”

As previously reported by The Daily Iowan, there have been 2,510 self-reported student COVID-19 cases and 212 employee cases as of Nov. 16.

“With the latest bump probably after Halloween parties,” Fick said. “Just like you would expect, four to seven days later, we saw an increase in reporting. That particular wave has sort of washed over us, and now the numbers are going back down.” 

UI Faculty Senator and Councilor Nicole Nisly said she is concerned when she speaks to students who have COVID-19 with severe symptoms. 

“I spoke with a student and they had a fever of 102 and they’re feeling terrible. They had no way of getting to a testing site,” she said. “Or at least, that’s their perception.”

Fick said despite efforts to reduce COVID-19 on campus, the UI has information that they can’t seem to get through to some students.

“We provide information, overload our students with texts and emails,” Fick said. “Every bathroom has the information on what to do [when sick with COVID-19], who to contact, where to go. Residence systems have the information, the housing, floor clerks have the information that is there 24/7… but it’s never enough.”

As Thanksgiving break approaches for all UI students, faculty, and staff, Fick said over 1,800 students replied to a survey recording where students will be during the break. Over half of student responses said they would be staying in Iowa City, while the other half will be going outside of the Iowa City area.   

On Nov. 12, the UI shared governance sent a letter to the state Board of Regents regarding Gov. Kim Reynolds measures to fight the spread of COVID-19 in Johnson County. 

“Advocate now to protect Iowa’s hospitals and healthcare workers,” the letter to the regents said. “Please advocate now to save lives.”

In an email to the DI, Senior Communications Director of the regents Josh Lehman said the state universities have developed and implemented detailed policies and procedures to keep the campuses as safe as possible. 

“The Board of Regents supports our universities’ campus plans,” Lehman said. “Health and safety of the faculty, staff, students and visitors to the Regent Universities has been and will continue to be the top priority.”

Fick said the COVID-19 cases that are self-reported by students and staff and numbers from Johnson County Public Health will decrease in the upcoming weeks as students leave for Thanksgiving break.

“With the governor’s proclamation with all of the bars closing at 10 [p.m.], there is probably not going to be the social activity downtown that people thought as a reason to stick around,” he said. “So we may see more and more students leaving after Thanksgiving.” 

Regarding the COVID-19 vaccination, Fick said he anticipates an emergency use authorization in December to start providing the vaccine.

“I don’t anticipate that this is all going to be over in the spring,” Fick said. “It’s gonna last for several years until we can get enough people vaccinated so that a COVID infection is a pretty rare thing.”