CORONAVIRUS

Cedar Rapids implements more precautions in light of novel coronavirus

911 call center screening, hospital visitation limits announced Friday

This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in January 2020 shows the 2019 Novel Corona
This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in January 2020 shows the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV).. (CDC via Associated Press)

CEDAR RAPIDS — In light of the increasing number of the novel coronavirus cases in the United States each day, city officials and Cedar Rapids hospitals have announced new measures to prepare for a potential outbreak in Iowa.

In addition to an emergency operations plan at the city, Cedar Rapids’s 911 call center enacted a screening process this week to communicate risk factors for COVID-19, or the novel coronavirus, to first responders responding to emergency situations.

“The screening will not delay the dispatch of emergency responders to a scene,” said Greg Buelow, public safety spokesman.

While sending a call for service, Cedar Rapids Joint Communications Center dispatchers will ask callers if they have:

• A fever, cough or other symptoms of COVID-19

• A recent history of travel to affected countries

• Recent close contact with a lab-confirmed COVID-19 patient.

If a patient answers yes for these questions, police officers and firefighters will receive a message to use precautions.

“The measures are in place to protect against proximity, direct contact and airborne transmission,” Buelow said in an email. “Most medical facilities have similar policies, so it was logical for first responders, who are part of the health care system, to employ similar measures.”

Personal protective equipment, including respiratory masks, has been provided to city employees who are most likely to encounter a patient with coronavirus, according to officials with the police and fire departments.

No cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Iowa.

According to the latest report from the Iowa Department of Public Health, 15 tests for potential infection in Iowans have come back negative. Two more Iowans are still waiting for results of their testing, which is being conducted by the State Hygienic Lab in Coralville.

The city of Cedar Rapids’ response to the coronavirus has included initiating an emergency preparedness plan in case of an increased demand for calls for service and a continuity-of-operations plan to ensure adequate city staff is available to deliver essential services, according to a city news release.

Respiratory etiquette, hand hygiene and the importance of staying home if ill have been emphasized with city employees, according to the news release.

“Just like first responders need to prepare for severe weather or other events that could disrupt citizens’ normal routine, the city, including the police department and fire department, have developed emergency preparedness plans and a continuity-of-operations plan to ensure that essential services can continue to be delivered if there would happen to be coronavirus cases impacting our community,” Buelow wrote.

Cedar Rapids Hospitals Limit Patient Visitors

UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s Hospital and Mercy Medical Center announced this week they were limiting the number of visitors per patient “to minimize potential patient exposure to seasonal influenza and other respiratory viruses.”

These new precautions, which took effect Friday, are in place until further notice.

The new policies are:

• Visitors are limited to two adults per patient room at any time. Adults, or those aged 18 or older, must be in good health. Children are not allowed to visit at this time.

• However, both hospitals will waive this limit under special circumstances, which apply to end-of-life or critically ill patients. Under these circumstances, children may be permitted, but visitors must work with the hospitals in these cases.

• Visitors to the labor-and-delivery and pediatrics floors are limited to parents and two adults in good health. Healthy siblings under 18 years of age are allowed.

• Visitors to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, or NICU, are limited to parents and two adults in good health. Children are not allowed to visit at this time.

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“Both hospitals recognize and appreciate the interest people have in supporting family and friends who are hospitalized,” the news release stated. “However, these precautionary measures are being taken to provide optimal safety for patients as instances of seasonal flu is on the rise.”

Mercy and St. Luke’s are encouraging visitors to use hand sanitizer dispensers located throughout their facilities. They also ask that visitors wash their hands before and after visiting a patient, and to sneeze or cough into a tissue or shirt sleeve.

Gazette reporter B.A. Morelli contributed to this report.

Comments: (319) 368-8536; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

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