IU is getting ready for students to come back to campus as COVID-19 cases rise in Bloomington, municipal employees are increasingly getting sick and local restaurants are shutting down due to outbreaks.
An email sent to students last Friday contained some details about how IU plans to address the virus while maintaining in-person components for over 40% of classes. Further details on the plan were provided to the Indiana Daily Student by doctors and administrators who have participated in the planning process.
They said IU is preparing for students to return with a combination of reduced housing density on campus, random testing, testing of those with symptoms, pre-arrival testing, mask wearing, social distancing, prevention of congregation, contact tracing, quarantining and consistent and regular messaging about student behavior and COVID-19 spread.
“IU has taken a very serious approach to planning,” said Paul Halverson, founding dean of the Indiana University Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health. “The safety of our students, faculty and staff is our utmost concern, and we will not bring people back to unsafe conditions, and that’s the bottom line.”
The approximately 10,000 students living in residential halls or IU campus apartments, as well as those in greek houses, will be required to have a pre-arrival COVID-19 test, and students who test positive for the coronavirus after arrival will be required to leave campus and return to their homes. The official IU COVID FAQ page says the students that are required to submit COVID-19 test results and do not submit them will not be permitted to attend in-person classes or participate in any other activities on campus. If students living in these situations test positive, they must stay at home, not return to campus and get retested once their symptoms improve.
“Students that are testing positive will be required to stay home for a minimum of 10 days,” said Lana Dbeibo, director of infection prevention at Methodist Hospital and IU School of Medicine assistant professor. “Home meaning physically at home, not just in their county. They can’t go grocery shopping, they can’t see friends.”
More than 30,000 IU students do not live on campus or in greek houses. These students are only advised to take a test prior to arrival, and the administration suggests that all students follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, which include wearing masks, social distancing and avoiding large gatherings.
However, Dbeibo added that IU is working on bringing testing to campus for “routine surveyance,” where people are randomly tested, even those without symptoms, in order to track trends on campus and find asymptomatic cases. She added that they are working to increase the testing capacity of the IU Health Center.
“We do expect to test everyone upon return to campus, but we’re still working out the mechanism for that,” said IU spokesperson Chuck Carney. “There are some things we’re still trying to figure out.”
All students must sign a student commitment form outlining expectations in order to participate in in-person events on campus, including classes, during the fall semester. By signing the form, students commit to washing or sanitizing their hands frequently, wearing a face covering inside of IU buildings and in crowded outdoor areas, practicing physical distancing and taking their temperatures daily. They also commit to getting tested, downloading apps from IU and notifying IU immediately if they believe they have been exposed to COVID-19, have a fever, have other COVID-19 symptoms or have been told by a medical professional to isolate for a related reason.
What happens when students test positive at school
The student commitment form also outlines what students are expected to do if they become sick. If they develop symptoms, they should immediately self-isolate until they receive test results. The form emphasizes that those living off campus should not return to campus if they are self-isolating. If the test comes back positive, students should continue self-isolating until they are cleared for return by a physician or their symptoms have improved and 10 days have passed since the onset of symptoms.
Carney said that IU has reserved 563 rooms for students isolating while awaiting test results and students who must quarantine and are unable to return home for various reasons. While most ill students will be required to return home for quarantine, some may live somewhere too far to drive, have elderly or otherwise at-risk individuals at home or live somewhere where quarantine is not possible.
“The intention is not to put someone who is a known positive on an airplane,” Halverson said. “That would be a disaster.”
Dbeibo added that IU would also be facilitating services like food delivery and laundry for students isolating on campus. Right now, these rooms are for students living on campus and potentially for students living in greek houses.
“These are not a substitute for a hospital bed or medical support that a person might need” Halverson said. “It’s not a hospital, it’s not a fancy hotel.”
Halverson said there is not enough space in the isolation areas for students living off campus. He suggested everyone living with roommates off campus make a plan for if a member of their household tests positive. He said he thinks the issue of handling sickness off campus is both very important and currently unresolved, and IU will be providing more guidelines in the future.
When asked if IU would be providing any financial support to help students who need to return home or quarantine, Dbeibo and Carney both said they weren’t sure of the answer, but Dbeibo said she would bring up the question at a future meeting. Halverson said that he believes that if an on-campus student has to stay in one of the isolation rooms there will not be a charge, since they have essentially moved from one IU housing room to another.
No one interviewed could clarify exactly which circumstances would cause IU to shut down campus again. Dbeibo said that they were monitoring county and campus case numbers and that the threshold for a shutdown would be different for different IU campuses, depending on local variables including hospital, testing and contact tracing capacity and available quarantine space.
When asked if they believed that IU would stay open for the entire planned duration of fall semester, everyone said that despite all of their preparation, the result would depend ultimately on student behavior.
“I wish I had a crystal ball to tell you that answer,” said Halverson. “But if we continue on the trajectory that we’re on today, I think it would be a high likelihood that we won’t be able to finish the semester.”
“We might have to shut down if adherence isn’t met or if transmission in the county is high enough,” added Dbeibo. “Stressing the importance of wearing masks and social distancing will have a huge impact on whether classes will continue.”