Editorial | Our leaders won’t act. It’s up to us to protect each other from COVID-19

It’s likely we’ve seen all we’re going to see from our university administration in terms of protective measures against COVID-19. In order to keep ourselves and others safe, we need to stay diligent during the omicron surge.


Daniel McGregor-Huyer

A COVID-19 safety sign hangs on the door of the Adler Journalism Building in Iowa City on Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021.

DI Editorial Board

Since spring classes began at the University of Iowa, 705 students and employees have been infected with COVID-19. By the time you’re reading this, another 150 to 200 cases may have been reported.

In the first week alone, 532 cases were reported. That’s more than the 507 reported in the first week of fall 2020, when the severity of the virus meant many classes were moved online and there was a mask mandate on campus. Now, none of those mitigations exist.

To its credit, the UI has taken some steps to address the rapid spread of the virus on campus.

This semester, instructors have a (slightly) more flexible method of moving instruction online if they or their students get sick. The university is providing KN95 masks at many buildings, and free rapid tests to people who have been exposed. At the beginning of the semester, UI President Barbara Wilson sent a campus email practically begging students to wear masks.

And yet, there’s a number of things university administrators could do, that they most likely won’t. They’re not going to allow instructors to move sections online at their discretion. They’re not going to conduct regular surveillance testing in high-density residences like dorms and fraternity and sorority houses.

And the state Board of Regents, which sets policies for the university and is in lockstep with anti-mandate Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, isn’t going to allow the UI to mandate masks or vaccines.

This editorial board has called out the shortcomings of both our administration and political leaders. The UI’s graduate student union has demanded stronger policies for over a year, and several letters, signed by dozens of professors and employees, have been sent to the administration calling for more action.

But those requests have been either ignored or met with empty words. We’ve seen all we’re going to see from the administration and the regents.

So where does that leave us?

We, the UI community — those of us who live, work, and learn in these buildings and on this campus — need to help each other, because policymakers and the government have stopped helping.

After hitting a staggering peak on Jan. 14, the daily rate for COVID-19 cases nationwide looks to be on the decline, but it remains high. In Iowa, it’s not clear whether the omicron variant has run its course yet. Last week broke a record for the most new cases in the state in a single week, and the daily average has remained above 5,000 a day since Jan. 12.

Experts have predicted cases in Iowa may reach a peak in the next few weeks. But until then, we must do everything we can to prevent unnecessary suffering, and ease or prevent the next wave.

There are a few things you can do right now.

Get vaccinated

The vaccine is the very best tool we have to rein in the virus. While vaccinated people still run some risk of getting infected, their symptoms are less severe. If you’ve already gotten your primary vaccine series, get a booster dose. Getting boosted will lower your risk of catching the virus significantly, and if you do, you will have less severe symptoms, which lessens the amount of time you’re likely to pass it on to someone else.

You can sign up for vaccination for free at any pharmacy or schedule an appointment directly through the UI. If you haven’t already, students can show their vaccine card at the Iowa Memorial Union to get a $10 downtown Iowa City gift card.

Wear a mask, preferably N95 or KN95, in indoor spaces and classrooms

This one really should not be hard. Masks work, and N95 and KN95 masks are your best bet. The university is providing free KN95 masks at most building entrances, and you can purchase a pack of them for relatively cheap, if you find the right seller. Several media outlets have buying guides that will make sure you don’t buy counterfeit masks.

When you go to in-person classes this semester, or to the IMU or shopping downtown, put a mask on. What takes a few seconds could save you several days of illness or worse. Even if you think COVID-19 won’t be bad for you, wearing a mask prevents you from passing the virus on to someone else who may have much more severe outcomes.

Limit large gatherings, at least until omicron dies down

COVID-19 has been with us for nearly two years. What most people did in March 2020, staying in their homes and venturing out only for essentials, is not what most people can be expected to do now. Socializing is important, and as college students, many of us have jobs that we have to do in person.

But the fact remains that the prevalence of the virus is about as bad as it’s ever been in Iowa. More than 300 cases are being reported in Johnson County every day.

Until we see cases start to fall in our county and state, consider spending the night in with vaccinated friends rather than at a crowded bar. Throughout the pandemic, the largest source of spread among students hasn’t come from the classroom but instead from off-campus activities, likely from crowded bars and parties.

There are more than 30,000 students on this campus, and thousands more employees. If each of us took these three steps, we would see campus transmission drop drastically.

This is not a matter of politics, of two sides, or of which institutions you trust. It is a moral imperative. The choice is yours.

Editorials reflect the majority opinion of the DI Editorial Board and not the opinion of the publisher, Student Publications Inc., or the University of Iowa.

Editorial board members are Caleb McCullough, Rylee Wilson, Josie Fischels, Hannah Pinski, Sophia Meador, and Yassie Buchanan