City preps for reopening, Mayor tested for COVID-19

Friday, May 22, 2020
A helicopter takes off from the football field area at Storm Lake High School Monday evening, picking up the tests from the Test Iowa site for lab evaluation. / Pilot photo by Dana Larsen

Storm Lake is preparing to reopen facilities - cautiously.

City Hall is scheduled to reopen for regular hours as of June 1, initially with the public limited to no more than three people in the lobby at a time, with face coverings required. The library is also planned for reopening June 1.

Buena Vista County Supervisors have scheduled a special meeting Friday to plan for reopening of the courthouse and revisit its COVID-19 protective policies.

City officials hope to open the King’s Pointe waterpark for the season in early June as well, if state directions allow. Initially the park may be limited to lap swimming and lessons. King’s Pointe is currently doing painting and sanitizing of the waterpark area to prepare for filling the pool. Playgrounds and public restrooms have not yet been reopened, and capacity at the campground remains limited for social distancing.

City Manager Keri Navratil said the local government may reopen more slowly than what the state allows. “We will be looking not only at the governor’s directives, but at the number of cases in our community, which continue to be high,” she said.

On Thursday, 11 new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Buena Vista County, for a to-date total of 133 - 14th highest per capita rate among the state’s 99 counties. Twenty-four patients were considered recovered, and 1,156 county residents had been tested. Of those 11.5 percent proved positive. Statewide, 16,144 cases were reported Thursday, with 405 deaths to date and over 8,600 patients recovered.

The Test Iowa mobile COVID-19 testing site in Storm Lake will continue to be open through at least the end of the week, state officials said. On the soft opening weekend, 197 tests were done, according to Pat Garrett from the governor’s office. “It was a great launch,” she said, but the state will not make daily test counts public.

Gov. Kim Reynolds on Thursday announced that any Iowan who wants to be checked for COVID-19 will be able to get a test through Test Iowa. “Later today, we will be expanding the criteria so that anyone who thinks they should be tested can be,” Reynolds said at her news conference. “This is especially important as more Iowans are going back to work.” Details on testing locations will be released next week, Reynolds reported. Those interested can immediately take the online assessment to begin the process, she added. 

Storm Lake Mayor Mike Porsch is among those who have been tested for COVID-19 at the Test Iowa site.

He spoke on the experience during a city council meeting this week, saying he had been tested earlier that day. “It takes about two minutes to take the assessment [online]. I was tested at 1 p.m., and it took 10 minutes for the whole process,” he said. “If anyone feels symptomatic or think they have been exposed to someone who has tested positive, it is a great opportunity to see if you qualify for a free test.”

The mayor urged the community to continue its precautions.

He noted that two weeks earlier, he had said that the community was reaching a critical point. Then, Storm Lake had only about 20 confirmed COVID-19 cases. By the start of this week, there were 113, he said. “I anticipate that we will continue to climb over next few weeks, with the extra testing.”

“There is no cure, no treatment, no vaccine. The only manner we have to protect ourselves and stem the tide of the virus is mitigation,” Porsch said, encouraging social distancing of at least six feet and noting that gatherings of more than 10 people are still banned. The city is recommending strongly that people wear a face covering in public settings such as:

• Waiting in line for any services

• Shopping at a store

• Picking up to-go food at a restaurant

• Seeking healthcare

• Going into facilities allowed to stay open

• Working an essential job that interacts with the public

• Children 2 years and older should be encouraged to wear a mask when around others closer than 6 feet and should be supervised by an adult.

“Most of our businesses are back open, working hard to protect their employees and the public. As a community we need to respect them, and as we do business, help protect their employees. They lost a lot over the past couple of months in the economy. We need to do whatever we can to protect them so they can stay open and provide the services and opportunities for our community,” Porsch said, calling for Storm Lake to work together as a community in the face of the health challenge.

He expressed gratitude for the National Guard members, medical technicians, nurses, State Patrol and local Public Safety personnel who operate the Test Iowa site, as well as the school district for hosting the mobile unit at the high school.

Porsch also cited the city employees who had worked at the recycling center, allowing it to be reopened for the past two weeks until normal operations resumed. Staff from Public Works, Water Quality and even city administration pulled shifts helping to operate the center, he said.

City officials noted that lost revenue continues, including refunds that need to be given for such things as shelter house rental, though the city is expected to end the fiscal year with a healthy balance.

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