IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — University of Iowa administrators pushed ahead Monday with plans to resume in-person classes and on-campus housing, even as student leaders argued those steps were too risky during the coronavirus pandemic.
The university said it would not test students who will begin moving into the Iowa City campus in the coming days, unlike last week's mass testing at Iowa State University that identified dozens of infected students.
The campus health officer, Dr. Dan Fick, said one-time testing could give students a false sense of security and would require “significant resources” to administer correctly.
He said the university has focused on other public health measures that would be more effective to stop the spread, including reducing campus density, modifying classrooms and buildings to allow for social distancing and requiring face coverings.
Students with symptoms and those who have been exposed to the virus will be able to get tested, Fick said.
Fick said that Iowa has also not finalized metrics for determining whether to shut down face-to-face instruction in the event of an outbreak during the semester. He promised those measures will soon be made public and will consider a number of factors.
Fick spoke at a news conference with three other top administrators, days after undergraduate and graduate student government leaders released a joint letter calling on the school to offer online-only classes and limit student housing.
The letter said resuming classroom instruction was an “alarming prospect” that will result in sickness and likely some deaths. Johnson County has had nearly 2,100 confirmed cases and 19 deaths since March, even with the campus largely empty.
At a protest before Monday’s news conference, about 30 graduate students who teach and do research stood outside the student union with a similar message.
“We feel like this is a huge risk to open up in the way the university is planning to right now,” said graduate student Hadley Galbraith, who held a sign reading “All online or lives are on the line.”
University vice president Rod Lehnertz said the school is getting a wide range of feedback from students and employees and working to reduce the risk of exposure.
He said the school wasn't expecting a major drop in its enrollment of more than 30,000 students, while conceding that “every family must consider its individual circumstances in determining what they will do."
“Our goal is to make sure that we provide as much choice and as much certainty as we are able in this environment," he said.
The university distributed kits of protective equipment, including four masks, a face shield and hand sanitizer, to some incoming students on Monday. Students are expected to begin moving into the residence halls as early as Friday.
The university has moved nearly all classes with more than 50 students online, including more than half of all undergraduate courses, said interim provost Kevin Kregel.
Kregel said plans were underway to require first-year students to have at least one in-person course, and that many would have more.
Faculty and staff who do not feel comfortable teaching in-person can apply for waivers, which may be granted depending on their circumstances, he said.