Update on IU's response to the COVID-19 pandemic
Next Wednesday we will reach the midpoint of the on-campus phase of the fall semester of this unprecedented academic year. So, I want to take this opportunity to give you a summary of our public health strategy and the ways in which we have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic that have enabled us to get successfully to this point.
In order to resume our on-campus operations in instruction and research it was necessary and essential to implement a comprehensive, detailed, and far-reaching public health strategy. This was developed by our medical and public health experts from various schools within the university and IU Health. This was designed to proactively mitigate and strongly limit the spread of the coronavirus in the IU community and keep its members safe and healthy.
A key part of this strategy was the establishment of one of higher education's most robust, rigorous, and efficient testing and screening programs for COVID-19—a program that is unmatched by all but a very few other colleges or universities in the nation.
While we saw an anticipated spike in infections as the semester began, intensive and focused testing and contact tracing efforts have allowed us to pinpoint areas of concern and take immediate action to slow the spread.
Since your last meeting in August, IU has completed on-arrival COVID-19 testing for more than 39,000 students upon their return to our four residential campuses. These on-arrival tests had a 0.91 percent positivity rate—a prevalence in line with the expectations of our Medical Response Team of medical and public health experts.
Robust mitigation testing then began and has since been constantly conducted. Every week, Monday to Friday, we test over 10,000 randomly chosen students, faculty and staff on all of our campuses. In addition, we conduct additional focused testing in areas where infections are most common. This has been key to our mitigation efforts to control the spread of the coronavirus.
This week, our online COVID-19 testing dashboard reported a decline in the rate of positive tests for the third consecutive week. This was the case for both mitigation and symptomatic testing on all IU campuses.
The mitigation positivity rate across all campuses was 1.26 percent out of 11,646 tests for the week starting September 20—down from 1.86 percent the previous week.
After the alarming spike in positivity rates among students living in fraternity and sorority houses at the beginning of the semester, these rates have also declined. This week, the positivity rate for students living in fraternity or sorority houses was 1.8 percent, down from 3.1 percent the previous week.
We continue to see no evidence of transmission of COVID in any classroom setting. Our classrooms remain safe, and infections are rare in many other areas of our campuses.
Any members of the IU community who are infected or have been in close contact with someone who tests positive for the virus, are reached quickly by our contact tracers and helped to quarantine or isolate appropriately. These efforts, too, are working well and the numbers of those who need to enter quarantine or isolation are relatively low. If they are symptomatic our students, faculty and staff are able to get medical attention and diagnostic testing under our agreement with IU Health when they need it.
The next major step in our response to the pandemic, will be when our own testing labs – one in Bloomington and two at the IU School of Medicine in Indianapolis – begin operations later this month. This will enable us to do even more frequent and extensive testing as cold weather and influenza arrive, driving more people indoors and increasing the possibility of virus spread.
With the arrival of the colder months, we are also requiring that all IU staff, faculty and students who are regularly on campus get an annual flu vaccine. Flu vaccine clinics will be offered on every IU campus starting this month.
Overall then, and most importantly, things are improving and not worsening at this point in time. None of this, of course, is cause for complacency. Our numbers are improving because of the unremitting efforts of the whole IU community. Continued precautions and vigilance are essential. And It will be even more important to follow guidelines about distancing, masking, and hand washing in the coming months.
I want to take this opportunity to express, on behalf of the university, our most grateful thanks to our faculty, who with great skill and vigor, rapidly changed thousands of courses to an on-line format in difficult circumstances while also readily adapting to the challenges of in-person instruction with all of the necessary public health precautions.
I want to thank all of our tireless and dedicated staff, without whom we could not have resumed on-campus operations in either instruction or research. This includes our tireless senior administrators; our outstanding Medical Response Team; everyone responsible for the massive task of keeping classrooms and public spaces clean; those who advise and support our students on a myriad of topics; those who keep our critical world-class IT infrastructure functioning at peak efficiency; those who have been at the front lines of our testing and public health response; and a host of others.
And finally, I want to thank all of our students, the overwhelming majority of whom have embraced their responsibilities uncomplainingly and with maturity, persistence, and seriousness in spite of all the challenges that have been presented and how alien our present world is from the traditional IU college experience that one day they will have again.