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ISU To Hold In-Person Football Game With Some 25,000 Fans, Despite Raging COVID-19 Outbreak

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Phil Roeder
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Flickr Creative Commons
Iowa State University is planning to welcome some 25,000 fans to an in-person football game, despite Ames currently having one of the fastest growing coronavirus outbreaks in the world.

Iowa State University is plowing ahead with letting some 25,000 Cyclone fans attend the first football game of the season in-person next month, despite Ames currently ranking as one of the global hotpots of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I'm extremely concerned. I think we should all be. I think we're now in the unenviable position of being one of the global hotspots for COVID-19 spread,” said Daniel Diekema, director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, speaking generally about Iowa’s current outbreak before the announcement came down.

New coronavirus cases have been surging in Iowa as the state’s universities have reopened and welcomed students back for at least some in-person classes.

Ames, Iowa City lead the nation in number of new covid cases

The trends are most stark in Ames and Iowa City, which as of Monday have more new cases per capita than any other metro areas in the country, according to an analysis by the New York Times.

Iowa overall is adding more new cases than any other state in the country, scaled for population.

Nonetheless, ISU Athletics Director Jamie Pollard announced Monday that he was looking forward to welcoming thousands of football fans back watch the Cyclones face the University of Louisiana at Lafayette at Jack Trice Stadium on September 12.

“As we previously shared, attempts to implement mitigation strategies to a standard of absolute protection is simply not reasonable. It will ultimately be up to each attendee to decide if they are comfortable attending games given the mitigation strategies we implement,” Pollard’s written statement reads in part.

“Every person has a unique perspective of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some are fearless, others are cautious. Our measures will be too restrictive for some and too lenient for others. All we ask is that you respect others, follow our guidelines and support the Cyclones,” Pollard’s statement continues.

The school says it will require all attendees to wear face coverings at all times, will prohibit tailgating on university property, and will encourage fans to practice social distancing and stick to their assigned seats.

"Every person has a unique perspective of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some are fearless, others are cautious. Our measures will be too restrictive for some and too lenient for others. All we ask is that you respect others, follow our guidelines and support the Cyclones."
-Jamie Pollard, ISU Athletics Director

In a general campus COVID-19 update released Monday, ISU President Wendy Wintersteen said that the school’s decisions “remain rooted in the best public health and science-based guidance available."

Nonetheless, the scale of the planned football game is staggering, and flies in the face of public health guidance to drastically limit social gatherings, particularly for a community in the grips of a globally significant COVID-19 outbreak.

Speaking generally of Iowa’s surging caseload, Diekema points to state and university officials for reopening too soon, and prioritizing short-term economic activity over the health risks posed by further viral spread.

“At the state level, I think, there's been a lot of reluctance to do the things that most every public health official would recommend, like mandating masks, limiting in-person, indoor gatherings, closing down, or sort of limiting certain businesses like bars where people gather,” Diekema said.

UI 'pauses' all workouts

While ISU plans for an in-person gathering with thousands of fans, the University of Iowa Athletics Department announced Monday it would be "pausing" workouts for all sports until after Labor Day, September 7.

“Due to the recent increase in cases in the community, we have made the decision to pause voluntary and mandatory workouts until after Labor Day,” said Dr. Andrew Peterson, UI professor and head team physician, according to a written statement. “We remain confident in our overall process, including testing, contact tracing and daily health screening.”

Also on Monday, the UI announced that since Friday, an additional 326 students had self-reported that they had tested positive for the coronavirus. Since the start of classes one week ago, a total of 922 students and 13 employees at the UI have self-reported they have the virus.

Because students, faculty and staff do not have to notify the school of their status, the actual infection rate is likely higher.

"Now that we know that we have an ongoing outbreak, although right now it seems mostly concentrated in the 18 to 24 year old population, how soon before it begins to expand into other groups that are at higher risk for severe disease due to COVID-19?"
Daniel Diekema, Director of Division of Infectious Diseases, UIHC

Meanwhile on-campus testing at ISU has identified 633 positive cases among students, faculty and staff since classes started two weeks ago. That school does mandate self-reporting of COVID-19 tests.

Diekema says it’s too soon to know the full scope of the state’s current outbreaks, as cases continue to ripple out through communities, many going undetected and undiagnosed. Iowa may continue to see the impacts of this current spike for weeks to come, he warned.

“The real question is, now that we know that we have an ongoing outbreak, although right now it seems mostly concentrated in the 18 to 24 year old population, how soon before it begins to expand into other groups that are at higher risk for severe disease due to COVID-19?” he asked.

The answer to that could have far-reaching and devastating effects for the state’s most vulnerable, as well first responders, healthcare workers, and those living in congregates settings, such as incarcerated individuals and nursing home residents, as well as usher in a renewed lockdown that could further hamstring an economy already in recession.