Open letter to the Board of Regents pleads for stricter COVID-19 guidelines

The Board of Regents will be sticking to their original COVID guidelines from the beginning of the academic year.

Jack Mcclellan

As Iowa’s public universities begin the spring semester, the pandemic persists with some of the highest rates of COVID-19 yet. Concerned faculty and community members of Iowa’s three regent universities have sent an open letter to the Board of Regents requesting stricter COVID-related regulations.

Prompting this letter is the high COVID positivity rates in each of the university’s prospective counties. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Story County positivity rates are as high as 29.59 percent. In Johnson County, home to the University of Iowa, rates are at 29.77 percent and in Black Hawk County, home to the University of Northern Iowa, COVID rates are at 40.43 percent.

As the letter points out, these high numbers come before the start of classes, meaning they will likely increase as students flood into their universities. 

Much of this new surge of COVID-19 is due to the rise of the Omicron variant, which, according to the CDC has increased transmissibility when compared with other strains. While this variant is more contagious than the previous strains, the CDC has also cited that the variant tends to cause less severe symptoms.

Regardless of the severity of symptoms experienced, the open letter stresses the importance of working to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, not only to preserve the health of individuals within the universities but also their dependents who do not qualify for vaccinations or boosters.

“This group tends to be forgotten in the conversation about campus and community COVID mitigations, and yet the impact of caregiving needs on the campus workplace, student success and mental health is significant,” states the open letter. “Current COVID protocols on our campuses were put into place pre-Omicron, so updated approaches are necessary.”

The requests included in the open letter are as follows:

  • Universal mask mandate for all Regents university campuses by the start of spring semester

  • Additional mitigation measures in campus and contracted childcare centers/homes, including:

    • One or more university-provided portable air filter using HEPA air filters (or alternative effective filtration device such as a Corsi-Rosenthal box) in each childcare classroom and common areas, particularly those identified through CO2 testing as having inadequate ventilation;

    • CO2 monitor in each classroom and common areas;

    • Mask requirement for ages 2+ in all spaces used by childcare classes/groups (such as classrooms, lobbies, and gyms);

    • Classroom-level notifications of positive cases;

    • Ability to have university childcare students regularly tested through existing campus student health services

  • Paid leave options for employees who are caregivers impacted by the COVID case of a dependent and/or wishing to temporarily remove children or other vulnerable dependents from daycare/school settings, regardless of the open status of those settings

The letter was signed by 288 faculty, staff and community members from all of the Regent universities. Despite the level of support behind the open letter, the President of the Board of Regents, Micheal Richards, stated that the board’s COVID-19 guidance would not change for the spring semester.

“The current COVID-19 guidance from the Board for the fall 2021 semester remains in effect for the second semester and going forward,” said Richards. “The campuses will continue to implement policies within the guidance provided and in conjunction with the Board Office.”

At the center of the board’s COVID-19 guidance is the understanding that vaccines are widely available and effective against the virus. With the accessibility of these vaccines, the board wishes to give students as traditional of a learning environment as possible.

“We all need to use our common sense and take individual responsibility for managing our own health care,” Richards said.

For more information on the Omicron variant visit the CDC’s COVID tracking page.