CORONAVIRUS

Iowa virus sleuths focus on household gatherings to try to trace COVID-19

State launches public service campaign as holiday nears

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds on Thursday updates the state's response to the coronavirus outbreak during a news conference in
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds on Thursday updates the state’s response to the coronavirus outbreak during a news conference in Johnston. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

JOHNSTON — With COVID-19 spreading through Iowa at record levels, state public health officials are focusing their work on what they see as a key culprit — household gatherings.

Gov. Kim Reynolds and Dr. Caitlin Pedati, the state epidemiologist, said Thursday that as the numbers of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Iowa have exploded over the past month, their case investigations and contact tracing — efforts to determine how the virus is spreading from person to person — has become focused on whether Iowans are taking precautions around each other.

Iowa’s COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths are all at record highs for the pandemic, far outpacing the previous surge this summer.

“As numbers have increased, we’ve increasingly focused on high-risk situations, which includes households. We know that households are a place where all kinds of illnesses can spread quickly,” Pedati said Thursday during a news conference at Iowa PBS studios. “When we live together, there are more chances for a virus that moves from one person to the other to move between us. So we want to help do what we can to protect other people who may have been exposed and are at higher risk for becoming sick.”

Besides the concern over household gatherings — sure to increase over next week’s Thanksgiving holiday — the state also is seeing a spike in outbreaks in long-term care facilities.

About a quarter of such facilities in Iowa now have outbreaks. Reynolds said she would direct $14 million in federal funds to facilities in the state to help them combat the virus.

Pedati restated the now-commonly repeated guidance for helping slow the virus’ spread — frequent hand-washing, wearing face masks in public when around others and staying at least 6 feet away from others.

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And at the state’s eight-month mark of a pandemic that has claimed the lives of more than 2,100 Iowans and more than 250,000 Americans, Pedati was compelled to remind Iowans about the most basic public health guidance.

“We want to just make sure that people understand it’s still important to keep yourself away from others if you have COVID, and to keep yourself away from others if you’ve had a COVID exposure. Because that really does help limit that spread,” she said.

Pedati and Reynolds said they understand some people may feel exhausted by having to deal with COVID-19 for months now, and both urged Iowans to remain vigilant in their efforts to help slow the spread.

To that end, Reynolds unveiled a TV advertisement that is part of a public information campaign launched by the governor’s office encouraging Iowans to take proper mitigation steps.

The TV ads feature former governor and U.S. agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack, legendary college wrestling coach Dan Gable, Test Iowa nurse Katie Witt, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics Chief Executive Officer Suresh Gunasekaran and internet celebrity and fundraiser Carson King.

Similar ads also will appear on radio and in newspapers in Iowa.

“Though you may have grown tired of hearing it, it’s even more important now to blanket every corner of the state with this message so that we can help stop the spread of the virus,” Reynolds said.

The Associated Press contributed.

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