Mayor, BV health leaders express COVID-19 alarm

Friday, November 20, 2020

Storm Lake Mayor Mike Porsch describes the rise in local COVID-19 cases as “alarming,” as a 14th death in the county was reported Thursday.

Buena Vista County had seen 2,803 confirmed COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began. As of Thursday, more than 14 percent of the county’s population has been tested positive with COVID - the state’s highest per capita rate. Almost 200 new cases had been reported in the county in the past week.

Over 2,000 of the local cases come from the Storm Lake zip code. Alta accounts for 248, Newell 127, Albert City 93, Sioux Rapids 56, Rembrandt 35, Marathon 23, Linn Grove 11, Truesdale 7.

The county’s 14-day positivity rate was at 22.6 percent yesterday. Over 220 people were hospitalized with COVID in the northwest Iowa region, including 43 new admissions Thursday. Four nursing homes in counties surrounding were under quarantine with active outbreaks.

“That is the definition of a community spread virus,” Mayor Porsch said of the statistics in a statement this week.

He felt that taking the familiar precautions could change the trajectory of the virus locally - wearing a mask in public, maintaining a six foot distance, avoiding social gatherings of more than 15 people, and quarantining at home if ill or exposed.

“If you do not want to do this for yourself, do it for the health care workers who risk their health to take care of you. Or the city workers, public safety, fire department who need to stay healthy to serve you. Or our kids who want to go to school and learn about the world they live in and their teachers. Or your neighbors because that is who we are in Storm Lake,” Porsch said. “We are a Community of Character willing to sacrifice some of our personal freedoms to make our community a safer place to be in this COVID Pandemic.”

Buena Vista County Public Health leaders are also urging precautions. In a statement this week, the Board of Health said, “The number of COVID-19 positive cases in Buena Vista County and the state is steadily increasing at a rapid rate and is posing an immediate threat to the public health of Buena Vista County residents and visitors and can potentially overwhelm the healthcare system. There is currently no treatment that is curative for this virus, but there is evidence on the effectiveness of public health measures to reduce the spread.”

The board strongly recommends wearing face covering when in public and when exposed to others within a six-foot distance for 15 minutes or longer. Exceptions to mask use would be for a child under age 2 or a legitimate medical condition that would preclude a person from wearing a face covering.

“It is anticipated that the majority of people in our community can wear a face covering and 100% usage in public is expected to get the maximum benefit from this measure,” the board said.

Other recommendations for Buena Vista County residents and visitors include:

Limit social gatherings, especially large gatherings of people.
Limit the number of interactions you have with people from outside your immediate household on a daily basis
Stay home when you are sick or exposed to COVID-19
Wash your hands frequently. Use hand sanitizer.
Clean commonly used surfaces often
Get your flu shot. This is even more important this year during the pandemic.

“During this pandemic the Buena Vista County Board of Health asks each citizen of Buena Vista County to immediately comply with these directives to slow the transmission of this virus. We know the upward trend in positive cases will continue without Buena Vista County residents adopting these mitigation strategies,” the statement reads. “We need everyone to do their part to protect yourself, those around you and the community.

The COVID precautions situation is changing by the day. This week, the Iowa Conference of the United Methodist Church ordered churches to cease in-person worship and church activities until January 10, citing “catastrophic numbers” and “genuine fatigue felt by so many across Iowa.”

Governor Reynolds announced Wednesday an additional allocation of CARES Act funds to support Iowa renters and homeowners at risk of eviction or foreclosure due to a COVID-19-related loss of income.

“At no fault of their own, many Iowans are struggling to pay their bills as a result of lost income due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Gov. Reynolds.

The governor announced stricter mask requirements Monday, but stopped short of either a full mandate or requiring masks in schools. She said she believes “we’re not seeing a lot of transmission from the students” in classrooms.

Since classes resumed in the fall, Reynolds has declined to require face masks in classrooms, though her policies acknowledge their usage helps reduce the number of students and staff who quarantine.

“The governor is trusting all of us to be complaint,” Buena Vista County Public Health Director Pam Bogue said. “The state is trying to pull in behaviors without mandating it. I think the things she declared this week do provide another layer of protection and more guidance on distances, and numbers in groups.

“We’re at the point now where COVID is everywhere. Everybody knows someone who has been very ill with COVID, and because of that, people are taking it more seriously,” Bogue said.

In the past couple of months, people have been suffering from COVID fatigue, and have let their protections slip, she feels. “Young people have been getting together outside of school more than they should, and people in general have been more social than they should have been. We’ve seen our numbers here doubling week over week - 91 new cases in a three-day period last weekend. If we don’t see improvement in compliance and mitigation, if the numbers are still climbing in the next couple of weeks, I expect the governor to announce more restrictions.”

While the issue of mandates has become a political one, the BV Public Health Director said she did think that a statewide mandate for masks in school would be a good idea.

She is also backing the CDC recommendations issued Wednesday calling for no travel for Thanksgiving gatherings.

“I know I won’t be traveling for Thanksgiving. Any time we are with people from outside our household, risk is going to increase. We can see right in our community how contagious this is. When one person gets COVID, it isn’t just one in a household, it’s two or three at a time getting it. My advice would be to stay home with only the immediate family and enjoy the day as best you can.”

In its efforts to halt travel, CDC cited over a million COVID cases diagnosed across the country in the past week. It is also expressing concern that college students may return home for the holidays and unknowingly spread the virus, as up to 40 percent of those who are contagious may be asymptomatic.

Below is a summary of the information in Governor Reynolds’ Proclamation of Disaster Emergency issued November 16:

Mask Use:  Indoor spaces open to the public & State executive branch buildings

Masks required when individuals are within 6 feet of one another for 15 minutes or longer with certain exceptions.

 Gathering Restrictions:  Social, community, business, or leisure gatherings

No more than 15 people indoors and 30 people outdoors

These restrictions apply to wedding receptions, family gatherings, conventions, and other nonessential gatherings but do not apply to gatherings that occur during the ordinary course of business or government

 Sporting and Recreational Events: 

Youth and adult group sporting and recreational gathering are prohibited except for high school, college, and professional sports

 High School Sports & Extracurriculars:  Sporting, recreational, and extracurricular events

Only two spectators permitted for each high school athlete, performer, or competitor, and must wear a mask and maintain six feet distance from other spectators.

Students can be closer than six feet and are not required to wear masks

 Restaurants and bars:  Restaurant or bar, including wedding reception venue, winery, brewery, distillery, country club, or other social or fraternal club

Closed to in person services at 10:00 PM

No bar seating

Masks required when not seated (while playing games, dancing etc.)

Six feet distancing between groups

Groups limited to 8 people unless larger group is from same household

Seated when eating or drinking and limit congregation

 Fitness Centers: Fitness centers, health clubs, health spas, gyms

Group fitness activities are prohibited

Casinos and Gaming Facilities: 

Masks required except when seated to eat or drink

 Closer/prolonged Contact Establishments:  Bowling alleys, pool halls, bingo halls, arcades, indoor playgrounds, children play centers

Closed to in person services at 10:00 PM

Mask required when no seated to eat or drink

Ensure that groups and individuals are six feet apart at establishment

Groups limited to eight people unless larger group is all same household

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