AMES, Iowa – As the number of COVID-19 cases in Iowa grows, Iowa State University is actively working to minimize the risk of infection and mitigate the impact on the university community and local health care system.
The decisions to move to online instruction, cancel events and restrict travel are driven by guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Iowa Department of Public Health. This includes the CDC’s mitigation strategies to slow the acceleration in the number of COVID-19 cases and reduce demand on hospitals and infrastructure.
“By taking these steps to limit gatherings and promote social distancing we can help flatten the curve of this pandemic,” said Erin Baldwin, assistant vice president of student wellness and director of ISU’s Thielen Student Health Center. “A sudden spike in cases would overwhelm the health care system and that’s what we want to avoid.”
This is a rapidly evolving situation, which is why changes to campus operations often happen quickly. Iowa State activated its emergency operations plan in January so it was prepared to implement change as needed. In addition to a central coordinating team, Iowa State University Police Chief Michael Newton said the plan relies on close collaboration with the senior leadership team and 13 working groups, which address everything from health services to academic continuity to workforce protection.
More changes expected
The working groups are preparing for a variety of scenarios, including cases of COVID-19 on campus. When that happens, Iowa State will work with its local partners and follow protocols established by the Iowa Department of Public Health to quarantine the patient and identify anyone who had contact with the patient and may need to self-isolate.
The university’s response team is also working on longer-term scenarios, including extending online instruction and minimizing university operations. Newton says they are still in the planning phase and the university will provide timely information as decisions are made. Updates and information will be posted on the university’s safety page.
“Having a coordinated community response is crucial in this type of situation,” Newton said. “It allows us to work through potential issues that may result from a specific decision, and then maximize our resources when it is time to take action.”
Iowa State President Wendy Wintersteen says as part of the ongoing work and preparation, the campus community needs to do its part to limit risk and practice good infection control strategies.
“This is an unprecedented situation, and we ask that everyone be vigilant in prioritizing their health and safety,” Wintersteen said. “Our response team will continue to provide timely information through university communications and the campus safety page as the situation unfolds.”