Local case numbers down, but ‘it’s still here’

Friday, June 26, 2020

Buena Vista County’s COVID-19 infection rates have declined, while national numbers reached record levels this week. There are still a lot of questions about the virus to be answered, according to county Public Health Coordinator Pam Bogue.

While new case numbers can vary by numbers of people choosing to be tested and when those test results are reported, Bogue said that a key indicator is the number of hospitalizations, which have also declined in the region over the past two weeks.

“I think we’re actually going down. It’s not a real nice, pretty bell curve - it seems like our cases shot up almost overnight, then came down almost the same way. It charts like the shape of those bluffs out in Montana.”

Buena Vista County had five new cases reported Wednesday, 12 for the week so far. That compares to two weeks ago when more than a hundred new cases were reported on two different days. In the northwest Iowa region, 36 were hospitalized Thursday, compared to numbers in the 70s a week earlier. The local death toll stands at 10, none since Wednesday of last week.

The county has 556 patients considered recovered, up 19 from Wednesday and 162 from this time last week. The two nursing homes in the county with outbreaks totaling 16 residents between them, have seen no new cases reported in the past couple of days.

Still, Bogue warns that protections should be maintained.

“It is still here, and it’s going to be here, at least until people figure out a way to vaccinate,” she said.

Science still has much to learn about the outbreak, she adds.

“We don’t know yet how well people build up immunity, and whether they keep that immunity or whether it dissipates in a short time,” Bogue told the Pilot-Tribune.

At times, medical reporting seems to contradict itself. “At this point, I think you could find an article supporting anything you wanted to believe,” Bogue said. She noted that Iowa State University is now offering serology testing in the state, which could provide some solid data on how many people have been exposed.

Serology testing looks for the presence of antibodies, which are proteins produced by the body’s immune system to fight disease-causing bacteria or viruses.

Serology tests are being used in the COVID-19 pandemic to help give public health and medical officials a better understanding of how and to what extent the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has been spreading, and to what degree the body’s antibodies will protect people from the virus in the future.

Answers remain elusive.

“We have some people here who have had the virus, and after the period of being communicable, if tested still show as positive, while others in the same situation test negative,” BV Public Health’s Bogue notes.

Some with COVID-19 show no symptoms, while others face hospitalization or even death. “That’s the scary part. We like things we can control and explain and predict,” Bogue said.

“I wish I had the wonderful, insightful predictions to give, but all we can say for sure right now is that our numbers are down from where they were.”

She is urging continued efforts for self-protection and especially avoiding gathering in large groups.

“The longer we go out with those precautions, the better numbers we should have as a community. Any time people are in a group environment, we are going to have the possibility of an exposure.”

She believes it is a good idea that some schools and colleges are planning to start early in order to have an extended winter break.

“We know that flu virus spreads over the holidays every year. At Thanksgiving and especially at Christmas, when people are together in confined spaces, viruses are going to spread,” Bogue said. If there are extended breaks, people who are exposed may pass out of that contagious period before they return to schools or campuses to potentially spread the illness there - or at least that is the hope.

It gets more difficult by the day to convince people to protect themselves. “I know they are going stir crazy, that it hurts to not have the freedoms they are used to. Mentally, emotionally, it takes a toll. Being able to travel, go to events, is how a lot of people tend to release stress,” she explains. “But being home is still the safest place for us.”

Surveillance measures continue for two nursing homes in the county that have seen outbreaks - nine cases at Newell Good Samaritan and seven at Albert City Pleasant View. AARP Iowa says it is calling for immediate, mandatory testing in all of the state’s nursing home and assisted living facilities.

“I follow up with them daily for updates on residents and staff who are sick. We went back and did extra testing at the two nursing homes, and also tested at Midwest Christian Children’s Home,” she said. The latter had no cases. The nursing homes have created plans for isolation units for COVID-19-positive residents.

“Everybody has put measures in place. The problem is, it is difficult to manage when people are getting exposed away from work, and then coming in not knowing they are carrying the virus,” she said.

The county also continues to see some who have been sick lingering with the symptoms well longer than the two weeks that were expected for recovery.

Meanwhile, Public Health is still taking calls often from businesses wondering whether they should reopen, and what kinds of plans they need in place as they return to more normal operation - caution which Bogue appreciates. She advises people to watch the local numbers, as the situation in various counties can be very different.

Numbers have risen in Dickinson County, for example, as the Iowa Great Lakes vacation season has picked up. The number of cases among residents there - 229 as of Thursday - may be just the beginning, she suspects.

“I wonder how many people are going up there to have fun, then heading back to their communities all over the state and bringing it along with them,” she said.

The amusement park at Arnolds Park announced Thursday that it would reopen.

Nationally, three of the most populous states - California, Texas and Florida, reported record high COVID-19 new case numbers at midweek, while Arizona saw a peak in hospitalizations. The U.S. recorded a one-day total of more than 36,000 new cases, which would be the highest daily increase to date in the pandemic.

More than 9 million people around the world have been confirmed with COVID-19. The U.S. death toll of more than 122,000 this week surpassed the total killed in World War I.

Iowa had 461 new cases confirmed yesterday, for a to-date total of over 27,000. Four new deaths were reported. On Thursday, Governor Kim Reynolds signed a new proclamation continuing the Public Health Disaster Emergency through July 25. The proclamation extends the public health mitigation measures that are currently in place, including the requirement to maintain social distancing in bars, restaurants, movie theaters, and similar venues.

Bogue looks forward to the time “when my middle name is no longer Covid,” noting that Public Health has been talking about, training and sharing information on the virus nearly nonstop since the beginning of the year.

The state has had its first case of West Nile virus, so people have mosquitoes to worry about, she said, and she cited a lettuce recall linked to Cyclospora parasite.

“While Coronavirus is at the top of everyone’s radar, we’re going to be seeing all this summer concern things making a comeback, too.”

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