Iowa's universities plan to bring back students in fall

Iowa's three major public universities are planning to resume in-person classes in the fall, but they are still working out the details of what that would look like during the coronavirus pandemic.

Iowa Board of Regents President Mike Richards said the schools will follow state and federal health guidelines as they develop plans to bring thousands of students back to the campuses of the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and Northern Iowa University.

Board of Regents spokesman Josh Lehman told the Des Moines Register that specific plans for the fall semester will be shared as they are developed.

Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds is beginning to ease some coronavirus restrictions even though COVID-19 is still spreading in Iowa. State health officials said Sunday that the number of confirmed cases in Iowa had increased by 384, to 5,476, and the number of deaths had increased by 6, to 118. A day earlier, 648 new cases were reported in the state.

The actual number of infections in the state is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested and studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick.

University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld said the school is taking a cautious approach to planning for the fall.

"The situation is, of course, extremely fluid, and the specific steps we will need to implement have yet to be determined. … And like each of you, UI leadership is trying to figure out exactly when it will be safe and appropriate to return to 'normal,'" he said.

Iowa State President Wendy Wintersteen said in a letter to faculty and staff last week that the school is facing more than $80 million in losses and additional expenses since April 3 because of the coronavirus pandemic. That total includes nearly $17 million in refunds to students and families for housing, dining and other fees.

Wintersteen said she will continue to prioritize the health of students, faculty and staff as plans for the fall are developed.

"Preparing for fall will require new and creative approaches to how we support our mission and campus operations," she said, "especially in considering the best alternatives available if our planning efforts are impacted by external factors beyond our control."

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.