Iowa State offers pre-holiday-travel COVID-19 testing as campuses issue Thanksgiving warnings

IOWA CITY — With COVID-19 cases rising across Iowa, its communities, and now public universities, the campuses are warning their tens of thousands of students likely headed home this month to make a plan for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday — including getting tested, if necessary.

University of Iowa — which on Friday reported another 60 campus COVID-19 cases in two days, continuing its escalation after reports of 47 on Wednesday and 35 on Monday — is not offering testing to departing students without symptoms, but rather just to those with symptoms or confirmed exposure.

Iowa State University — which, along with University of Northern Iowa, ends its fall term the day before Thanksgiving — is offering asymptomatic testing to students departing for winter break. Testing, “even if you don’t feel sick,” is being offered by appointment between Nov. 16 and 21.

In a campus message Thursday, ISU President Wendy Wintersteen warned a negative result only reflects a point in time. And, she wrote, students who test positive “may need to complete their isolation period here before returning home.”

“While you can isolate at home, you must consider your travel arrangements,” she wrote. “Airlines and trains will not permit travelers with COVID-19, and some states have specific restrictions or requirements. Department of Residence isolation housing is available for students who live on campus.”

Iowa State is the only of Iowa’s three public universities that mandated testing before students could move in to the residence halls in August. And, in October, it began offering randomized asymptomatic testing on campus in an attempt to curb the spread.

UI this week announced it will start offering asymptomatic testing for residence assistants only as part of a pilot program.


UNI has not offered asymptomatic testing. That campus, which on Friday reported another 78 positive cases via Student Health Center testing over the last week, is offering testing for symptomatic students or close contacts — like at UI.

UI, which is not done with the fall semester at Thanksgiving but is moving all in-person classes online after the holiday, urged planning in its campus message Friday.

“Thanksgiving recess begins November 22, and while we are all looking forward to the opportunity for rest and relaxation, it is important that we all continue to be mindful of COVID-19,” according to the UI Division of Student Life message. “The decisions we make during this time will have the potential to impact our health and the health of others.”

UI Hospitals and Clinics executives — as they ramp up a surge plan to deal with the state’s soaring cases, which exploded this week with a record 4,706 on Thursday and another 3,393 on Friday — have urged Iowans avoid traditional holiday gatherings this year.

Hospitalizations across the state reached a record high 912 Friday, and UIHC reported 42 adult COVID-19 inpatients — continuing its rise. It also reported 1,018 visits to its influenza-like-illness clinic, which it’s trying to staff up.

And 32 UIHC employees on Thursday tested positive, bringing that total to date to 833.

UI Student Life stressed preparations are “especially important if you will see family and others who might be at higher risk for COVID-19 complications.”

“While this planning may include getting a test, health experts emphasize that a negative test result may occur early in a COVID-19 infection,” according to the message. “A negative test result does not guarantee that you are free of the virus, and you may still be able to spread the virus to others.”

And the campus suggested students — 14 days before traveling — take measures like masking, hand washing, social distancing, and limiting time in groups or venues like restaurants and bars.


Although those admonitions have been in place all semester, ISU President Wintersteen’s message referenced a seeming COVID-19 fatigue locally. She noted the recent surge in COVID-19 cases “has been caused primarily by social events where people are not wearing face coverings and are not physically distancing.”

“Be extra vigilant,” she wrote. “While it’s tempting to relax safety measures around family and friends you trust, COVID-19 is still very much present in our community. Individuals can be contagious and pass the virus before they show symptoms or feel sick. Don’t let your guard down around anyone.”

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