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Webster Co. officials plead for public cooperation

Cases, positivity rate explode

With renewed urgency from increasing COVID-19 hospitalizations, public health, hospital and elected officials are begging Webster County residents to wear a mask and refrain from large gatherings as current trends run the risk of exhausting county resources.

“As community service organizations we are coming together to (plead with) the community to please help in our fight against COVID-19,” the joint statement said Friday. “It is crucial for the public to understand that the challenges we are facing as a community are very real and urgent.”

In the statement from officials at UnityPoint Health — Trinity Regional Medical Center (TRMC), Webster County Public Health (WCPH), the Webster County Board of Health, Webster County Supervisors, the City of Fort Dodge and the Fort Dodge Police Department, county and city leaders warned that the county is at a “critical point” in the state’s fight against COVID-19 as positive cases continue to increase rapidly.

As Community Health Center of Fort Dodge moved its rapid testing center to a new drive-thru location at Fifth Avenue South and 15th Street, Webster County’s positivity rate jumped to nearly 21%, placing it in the top one-fifth of the state. The positivity rate is the proportion of those tested whose results are positive. Public health officials widely recommend maintaining a rate of under 5%.

Iowa’s positivity rate is the second highest in the nation. Seventy-two counties have a rate above 15%, the state’s own benchmark for potentially discontinuing in-person schooling.

WCPH Director Kari Prescott said, “The current situation is not good.”

As of Friday, Webster County’s total caseload had increased to 2,274, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH). In the last nine days alone, the county gained 334 new cases. The county’s death toll now reads 17, up two in the last nine days.

Webster County’s per capita infection rate is the 12th highest in the state, punching in 37% higher than the next highest urban county, Dallas County, and higher than nearly every county home to major cities in the state. Nearly every other county with higher per capita rates than Webster County is in northwestern Iowa.

In Friday’s statement, WCPH said that contact tracing has been identifying cluster events with multiple COVID-19 contacts, which results in additional exposures and more positive cases. The agency’s entire staff of about 30 people is now working on contact tracing, in addition to typical programming.

As the county enters a critical phase, public cooperation is necessary to flatten the spike of infections to avoid overwhelming the hospital and skilled nursing facilities, officials warn. And as the holidays approach, the county’s situation could be further compounded.

Events with large groups of people (10 or more) refusing to wear masks have an exponential effect of leading to more cases as the infections incubate and get spread further.

Preventive measures requested frequently — wearing a mask, requiring patrons of your business to wear a mask, limiting groups to less than 10 people, frequently washing and sanitizing hands, staying home when sick, practicing social distancing and getting your flu shot — have figuratively turned the face of Webster County Public Health blue since March.

“That’s what we’re really wanting to drive home,” said Kelli Bloomquist, public information officer for WCPH. “These are simple preventative behaviors we’re asking of people. If we can get people to follow some of those, we can be in a better place.”

“It is going to take every one of us doing our part to get this virus under control,” the joint statement said.

TRMC is continuing to see “high volumes,” of patients and an increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations, according to CEO Leah Glasgo, as pandemic-related hospitalizations in Iowa continue to break records.

“Every day, we are seeing more and more COVID-19 positive patients that need hospitalization,” she said Thursday.

Adequate staffing at the hospital “remains a challenge” as a growing number of staff stay home with COVID-19 or are forced to isolate due to community spread, according to Kari Jones, chief nursing executive at TRMC. In addition to higher coronavirus hospitalizations, the hospital is seeing patients who are “very sick.”

“Our staff is both physically and mentally exhausted,” she said Thursday. “They’ve been fighting this virus, and fighting for their patients, for eight months.”

Two recent nursing home outbreaks listed by the Iowa Department of Public Health — at the Marian Home and Friendship Haven — list 22 combined cases with six recoveries so far.

Webster County Supervisor Mark Campbell told The Messenger that county supervisors inquired about the possibility of a mask mandate ordinance this week. The idea was dropped Thursday after County Attorney Darren Driscoll spoke with the Iowa Attorney General, leading the county to the impression that it did not have the authority to impose one.

Despite the Iowa Attorney General and Gov. Kim Reynolds’ administration discouraging local mask mandates, several counties and cities around the state have defied them in an effort to curb local infections.

“Without implementing a mandate, we put this (statement) together in hopes that requesting and strongly urging people to do (all preventative measures) will help,” Campbell said. “We know some people still won’t, but we’re going to do everything we can to educate people and flatten the curve.”

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