Iowa State will begin random student testing Monday

A masked Johnny Orr statue stands in the intake area while testers wait at Iowa State University’s COVID-19 testing center inside Johnny’s at Hilton Coliseum. 

Kylee Haueter

Iowa State will notify students selected for random testing starting on Monday. Those that will receive notification have already been selected.

In an email sent to the student body Friday morning, Iowa State President Wendy Wintersteen announced that the school will begin randomly testing students to study asymptomatic spread of COVID-19.

“We do see a lot of people that are asymptomatic and don’t know that they have COVID-19” said Erin Baldwin, associate vice president of student health services and director of Thielen Student Health Center.

“So this is a way to really try to do another sample that helps us understand— are there people that are asymptomatic that may not know that they’re spreading the virus,” she said.

Baldwin also said this testing will be helpful in understanding the spread of the virus following winter break.

“I think it’s just an ongoing encouragement for folks to get tested,” Baldwin said. “We know that we’re going to have a long winter break period and many of our students will go home to their permanent residence. It’s just a constant reminder of those Cyclones Care mitigation strategies as we think about how we all interact with family members, friends, all of that with the holidays coming up as well.”

John Lawrence, vice president for extension and outreach and head of the fall (now spring) planning committee, said students have been randomly selected in a survey conducted by the Department of Statistics.

Students were randomly selected based on identification numbers. No names were involved, making the sample completely randomized

“We sent [the statistics department] a de-identified list of ID numbers, they drew the sample and sent it back to us,” Lawrence said. “We wanted sampling across all of our student population.”

Undergraduate, graduate and professional students are all eligible to be selected. Lawrence said they are hoping to get 500 to 1000 randomly selected students to be tested.

As Iowa State nears the end of the semester, Lawrence said they are confident they have enough resources to handle testing and that the capability to do this extra testing comes from that confidence.

“We feel confident that we can reach out to do more testing just to get a better understanding, as we look towards the end of the semester, of how we’re doing,” Lawrence said.

While cases and hospitalizations in Iowa continue to remain high, Iowa State has reported consistently low numbers for the last three weeks, maintaining a positivity rate of under 5 percent.

Lawrence also said that understanding how COVID-19 is being spread asymptomatically in the student population will help administrators determine what additional mitigation options, if any, need to be considered.

“Part of the information will give us information of what additional measures might— if we see a problem or challenge— how to focus that energy to address it rather than— is it campus-wide, is it only certain activities or areas we need to focus on,” Lawrence said.

Baldwin also added that there is currently a testing work group talking about testing strategies through the end of the fall semester and into the spring semester.

“Also tied into all of this too is keeping a close eye on what’s happening with the COVID vaccine, so lots of discussion coming,” Baldwin said. “I would anticipate that in the next couple of weeks we’ll have that testing strategy solidified.

Students are not required to be tested if randomly selected, but they are encouraged to participate. Iowa State has offered incentives for students that do get tested.

“We’re certainly hopeful,” Lawrence said regarding the expectation of whether or not students will participate in the testing. “That’s part of what the incentives are about— both the gift card for anybody who is drawn and comes to get tested but also entered into the larger prize.”

All students that are selected and participate will receive a $5 ISU Dining gift card. They will also be entered in a drawing to win larger prizes such as ten $50 ISU Dining gift cards, ten $500 scholarships, a one semester Department of Residence housing contract, and a one semester ISU Dining contract.

“We know from survey research that oftentimes people need an incentive to make the time and schedule the time and come to Johnny’s,” Lawrence said. “It’s part of the Cyclones Care campaign. It’s one other piece of helping take care of our community to have the students come forward and help us get a better understanding.”

Lawrence said “we have shown we are here to stay” and students will not be sent home.

“It gives us a better understanding of ‘are additional precautions needed,’ or can we encourage more gatherings or study groups or learning communities to work together in person,” Lawrence said.

If students do test positive through this testing process, they will not face any disciplinary actions.

“We strongly encourage that you take this request seriously and complete your test as directed,” Wintersteen said in her email. “This testing strategy is not intended to punish anyone. Students who are selected should not fear disciplinary action for doing the responsible thing to complete the testing.”

Iowa State’s COVID-19 dashboard will be updated to reflect these results once they come in.

“We want to recognize and thank our students for what a great job that you all have done in following the Cyclones Care measures,” Baldwin said. “We really appreciate that, we really want to continue to find ways to help our students be together in a safe way, so it’s awesome to me to see how our students have shown up and done a great job.”