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‘Ahead of the curve’

Local coronavirus task force asks public to shore up efforts

-Messenger photo by Elijah Decious
Webster County's Emergency Operations Center team, about a dozen people, has been meeting twice daily for weeks to react to rapidly breaking coronavirus news and formulate a comprehensive plan of action among various public agencies. From left to right are: Fort Dodge Mayor Matt Bemrich, Fort Dodge Fire Chief Steve Hergenreter, County Supervisor Mark Campbell, and Terry Evans of the Fort Dodge Fire Department.

Though there hasn’t been a confirmed positive case of COVID-19 in Webster County yet, leaders across the spectrum have been meeting twice a day for nearly two weeks in preparation for when it lands — but they can’t do it alone.

The Emergency Operations Center (EOC) is asking for all Webster County hands on deck to make the effort as impactful as possible, reducing the spread of the coronavirus even before people with COVID-19 make their way to getting positive test results.

If you’ve travelled outside of Iowa for business or spring break vacation in the past two weeks, it’s imperative to self-isolate from others for 14 days, the Emergency Operations Center for Webster County says, while checking your temperature and monitoring yourself for symptoms including cough, fever or difficulty breathing.

“We have lots of people coming back from vacations or spring break and are hearing that they’re not self-isolating,” said Kelli Bloomquist, public information officer for the center. “We really want to stress to people that that needs to happen.”

All health care agencies in the county have access to an unspecified number of test kits and have been testing patients. However, to make prudent use of limited testing resources, patients need to meet certain thresholds to be tested.

UnityPoint Health — Fort Dodge has no substantial supply shortages as of now, CEO Leah Glasgo noted, saying that Trinity Regional Medical Center is monitoring a “very dynamic and fluid situation” to stay prepared.

“The number of tests is ever-changing as we receive test kits and in turn utilize them with patients,” a press release from the EOC said. “The number varies daily and will continue to do so.”

The EOC could not specify the number of test kits available to the county. Agencies in Webster County have administered COVID-19 tests that came back negative, according to Dr. Kelli Wallace, medical director for Webster County Public Health. The EOC team declined to specify how many.

As of Monday, Gov. Kim Reynolds said 2,043 tests have come back negative in Iowa, just as the state’s total number of positive cases surpassed 100 in 26 counties.

As of Sunday, seven in Iowa have been hospitalized from COVID-19. The closest community-spread case to Webster County was identified Sunday in Kossuth County in an adult between 18 and 40 years old. Another case has lingered in nearby Carroll County, though that patient has been in contact with international travelers.

“As expected, the number of positive cases is increasing, in large part due to the expanded testing capability” Reynolds said in a press conference Monday. “As volume of testing continues to expand, we’ll likely see that number grow for a while.”

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines prioritize testing for the following people:

• Hospitalized patients who have symptoms compatible with COVID-19, in order to inform decisions related to infection control.

• Symptomatic people such as those age 65 and older or with underlying health conditions that put them at risk for poor outcomes (such as those with diabetes, heart disease, compromised immune systems, or chronic disease).

• All health care personnel with symptoms and close contact with a suspected COVID-19 patient within the last two weeks or those who have travelled to a heavily affected area recently.

• Those with symptoms who live in congregate settings, such as nursing homes or correctional facilities.

“We have tests, we’re testing,” Bloomquist said Monday. “Wesbter County’s EOC is one of the few in the state to already be set up, functioning and be proactively planning for COVID-19 responses. We are ahead of the curve.”

Current wait times for test results are in flux as labs work under pressure to respond faster to the case load, Bloomquist said.

Mayor Matt Bemrich, one leader on the team of about a dozen, urged the importance of social distancing as the city announced it would be suspending all face-to-face interactions between the public and non-essential personnel indefinitely.

“If you need to work or go out for groceries or medicine, please limit your social interactions to the reason you are out,” Bemrich said in a statement. “The longer we don’t comply with social distancing, the longer we’re going to have to do it.”

Though about 80% of those who become infected with COVID-19 will have mild to moderate symptoms, they will still be able to transmit droplets of the virus, according to Kari Prescott, director of Webster County Public Health.

“Thus, they will be advised to self-isolate at home,” she said, until they have no fever without the use of medicine for at least 72 hours, other symptoms have improved and at least seven days have passed since first symptoms appeared.

And experts say that staying at home as much as possible — symptoms or not — is the best line of defense to ensure those at greater adverse risk don’t become infected while giving Webster County’s medical infrastructure a fighting chance to handle a surge of cases.

“The threat of COVID-19 is as real as we have seen in the president and governor’s emergency proclamations,” Prescott said. “We have a solid group of Webster County leaders all working together to keep residents safe, up to date, and cared for throughout this pandemic.”

For questions about COVID-19, call the Webster County Public Health’s hotline at 515-227-7153 or email WebCoCOVID@webstercountyia.org. The phone line is staffed from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. with 35 full-time staff members from Public Health to answer any questions and refer the public to resources.

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