Opinion | The University of Iowa’s COVID-19 policies and response needs improvement

With restrictions being relaxed, a spike in COVID-19 cases may be inevitable. If the UI doesn’t improve their policies and COVID-19 reponse, the Iowa City community may be in danger.


Jeff Sigmund

Tables are kept 6 feet apart at Buffalo Wild Wings during the Super Bowl on Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021. Social distancing is still maintained after Governor Kim Reynolds removed the mandate at 12:01 a.m. that morning.

Hannah Pinski, Opinions Editor

Iowa City, we may be in trouble. 

Iowa is one of the slowest states in vaccine distribution. The Iowa Department of Public Health issued a supplemental vaccine shortage order that could remain in effect for up to several months.

The U.K. variant has made its way into Iowa — with two of the state’s three cases here in Johnson county.  

And now, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has decided to lift mask requirements and allow businesses to resume normal operations. Bars and restaurants are allowed to be packed with college students shoulder to shoulder where masks might not even be worn.

Although Iowa City’s mask mandate will remain in effect, it won’t stop bars from being crowded with college students and large gatherings from occurring. 

This is a recipe for a super-spreader disaster. And part of how big of a disaster this will be for the Iowa City community is the University of Iowa’s response if cases begin to rise. 

Based on previous response and planning, I am worried. 

Problem No. 1 that the UI must address is testing availability. 

UI Health Care and Student Health only offer tests for individuals with symptoms or who were in close contact with someone who tested positive. But close contact is defined as someone who was within 6 feet for a cumulative total of 15 minutes.

It’s going to take more than face shields made up of rubber bands and plastic to protect us and the community.

We need testing available if we have been in any contact with an infected person. Making specific requirements for a practice that will help stop the spread of the virus is unacceptable when the virus is still here. 

It’s going to take more than face shields made up of rubber bands and plastic to protect us and the community.

Problem No. 2 is a lack of planning in the fall semester and previous administrative decisions. 

The UI had five months between the spring and fall semesters to safely prepare the campus for a deadly pandemic. And all they could come up with was isolation dorms that were so filthy it caused a student to have a panic attack. 

To be fair, the start of the spring semester did not come with skyrocketing cases we saw last fall and with more vaccines expected to be in students and faculty arms, fall 2020 and fall 2021 will likely be very different. 

Yet, we will still need assurances that fall 2021 will not be the same. Last semester, we had a spike of 500 cases within a week back in August. Other institutions moved temporarily online when this occurred on their campus. However, the UI kept having in-person classes while professors took it upon themselves to teach from home and students were coddled to make “smart decisions.” We should have moved online then, and we’ll need to trust the UI will adjust its plans in the fall if the public health situation changes. 

Problem No. 3 is the UI administration’s inability to recognize its mistakes from last year. 

In a previous interview with The Daily Iowan in December, long into a decline in campus COVID-19 cases, President Bruce Harreld said he has seen social distancing and mask wearing while walking around campus and in the classroom. 

That’s great, but Iowa City bars and parties were still packed downtown with maskless students. Even in my classes, we may all be wearing masks, but I am definitely not six feet away from my peers. 

The UI administration should stop praising themselves and students for doing a “terrific job” last semester. We did not. We were part of the reason the Johnson County positivity rate spiked during the fall.

We did not make the best decisions last year, and the state offered help too little too late by closing bars after cases in university counties spiked. The safety of the UI community was left in the hands of the students, and we know that was a terrible idea. 

Every decision made now needs to come from learning from last year’s mistakes and in the interest of what is best for the safety of the community. 

We didn’t feel safe last semester, and that feeling has not completely gone away. But it’s not just about us — the Iowa City community is also potentially at risk. There were few serious cases of COVID-19 among students, thankfully, but this new virus’ long-term effects aren’t yet understood. Reynolds has made an appalling decision where a spike in cases may be inevitable, and the UI must know it can’t count on support from the state for COVID-19 relief and make decisions accordingly. Otherwise, we are going to put the Iowa City community in danger.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.