COVID-19 causes closures, concern as virus spreads through state

Charlie Comfort

SIGOURNEY – Within a matter of 10 days, life has changed significantly for Iowans, as well as Americans, due to the spread of COVID-19. Beginning on March 9, national events began to be postponed or outright canceled as community spread was confirmed of COVID-19. By week's end, the first cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed in Iowa, and virtually all major sporting events, including March Madness, MLB, and NBA had all been canceled or delayed multiple weeks.

As the virus was confirmed in Iowa, Governor Kim Reynolds activated several measures to combat the spread, including the opening of the state's emergency operations center. Gov. Reynolds also began encouraging residents and businesses to follow CDC guidelines set out to prevent the spread of the virus, including participating in social distancing recommendations. However, as the virus spread and the state had its first cases of community spread, Reynolds took strong action, recommending that Iowa schools close for four weeks, in line with what many other states in the nation began to do.

Sigourney School Superintendent Dave Harper said that the district was following recommendations of the CDC, Public Health, and Iowa Department of Public Education, noting that the situation remained fluid. Sigourney Schools announced their intention to follow the Governor's recommendation, closing schools until April 13. Harper said in a posting on the District's Facebook account that during this time, the district's facilities will remain locked down to most everyone.

"The buildings will be locked down after Wednesday to limit who comes and goes into the building. The business office will be open during the day if you have questions," Harper said.

One concern in closing school for an extended period was how to provide lunches for those students who rely on school lunches every day. Harper announced that school lunches would be available to any student who wants one throughout the closure.

"We plan to start to deliver meals on Wednesday or Thursday to all those who sign up for a meal. Each day [students] will get lunch and this is available to all children two to 18 years old. We will deliver to locations and homes if [students] cannot get out to drop off points," Harper said.

Another concern that had arisen as a result of the closure was the make-up of the four weeks of school that students will miss. Iowa state law requires that students attend school for at least 1,080 hours in a school year. On Monday, March 17, an announcement from the Iowa Legislature revealed that the state legislature had agreed to waive the requirement for Iowa schools to reschedule days canceled following the Governor's recommendation to close schools.

"This decision will provide Iowa school districts with the certainty that they need to make decisions locally and move ahead this school year," House Speaker Pat Grassley (R- New Hartford) said.

In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, Keokuk County Emergency Management Director Larry Smith held a round table discussion with various county health and public safety leaders to discuss the response to the COVID-19 outbreak and the county's preparedness.

"I strongly believe it's coming at us," Smith said at the onset of the meeting. Smith added that no confirmed cases had been confirmed in or immediately near Keokuk County, despite rumors in the public-at-large. At the time of the meeting, the only publicly known cases of COVID-19 were in Johnston and Pottawattamie Counties.

Keokuk County Public Health Director Virginia Threlkeld-Larson stated during the meeting that the CDC was reminding residents to "do the five": wash hands often, cough into your elbow, don't touch your face, stay more than 3 feet apart from others, and stay home if you feel sick.

If and when COVID-19 spreads to Keokuk County, Threlkeld-Larson said that her department would be in charge of anyone who tests positive for COVID-19. Those who test positive would be asked to self-quarantine. If they refuse to do so, an order to quarantine can be issued, and law enforcement would assist in enforcing the order. Testing of potential cases of the virus will be handled at the local level. She added that a person is presumed to be positive for the virus if 2 of three markers of the virus are present in a sample. Test results are generally ready within 24-48 hours of taking a sample. She added that at this time, Keokuk County Health Center has some test kits on hand. If residents suspect that they may have COVID-19, they are encouraged not to walk into the clinic or ER, but to instead call ahead for further directions. A screening will be taken over the phone and if a resident must come in and be tested, special safety precautions will be taken.

Matt Ives, CEO/CFO, of Keokuk County Health Center stated during the meeting that KCHC has implemented new procedures for visitors to the hospital. All visitors must be healthy. Also, visitors to patients in the hospital will be limited to a maximum of two adults, 18 years or older, at any one time.

Directors of local nursing/assisted living facilities in Sigourney and Keota also shared virtually the same message: they are essentially locked down. To ensure the complete safety of all residents of Sigourney Care Center, Manor House, and Keota Assisted Living, no visitors are being allowed. Additionally, anyone who enters the facility, including staff, is screened at the door. If someone does not pass the screen, they will not be allowed to enter the facility.

Keokuk County Supervisor Chair Mike Hadley, who is also chair of the Public Health Board, added that as discussions of whether or not to hold events have started to pop up, many of the decision-makers in the County have been contacted for their opinion.

"The public is going to have to start making decisions too. We can't make these decisions on our own," Hadley said.

He added that he believes the virus will soon be in Keokuk County.

"This is a matter of when not if," Hadley said.

Local decision-makers wish to remind the public that if you have any questions regarding COVID-19, or suspect you may be infected, call 211 or Keokuk County Public Health at 641-622-3575.



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