CORONAVIRUS

COVID-19 updates for March 10: Five more people test positive for coronavirus in Iowa

Gold medals, which were awarded to powerlifting athletes, lie on a table at the Special Olympics Mid-Winter Tournament a
Gold medals, which were awarded to powerlifting athletes, lie on a table at the Special Olympics Mid-Winter Tournament at the University of Iowa Field House in Iowa City on Saturday, March 11, 2017. Athletes from across Iowa competed in basketball, cheerleading, gymnastics, and powerlifting. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

6:08 p.m. Five more people test positive for Coronavirus in Iowa

Five older adults who were on the same Egyptian cruise as seven other Johnson County residents also tested positive for the respiratory virus, bringing the state total up to 13. These new cases also reside in Johnson County.

These individuals – all of whom as self-isolating and recovering at home – are older adults between the ages of 61 and 80 years old.

Another individual in Pottawattamie County in western Iowa also tested positive for the virus after traveling to California.

In response to these new cases Monday, Gov. Kim Reynolds a Proclamation of Disaster Emergency Monday evening, activating the Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management’s Iowa Emergency Response Plan.

“The proclamation authorizes state agencies to use resources including personnel, equipment and facilities to perform activities necessary to prevent, contain and mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 virus,” according to a news release.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates later.

5:33 p.m. Risk to public ‘extremely low,’ say Johnson County officials

Johnson County officials say although seven individuals from the same Egyptian cruise ship have since tested positive for the novel coronavirus in the county, there is no risk to the general public because these individuals did not have symptoms when they interacted with the community.

Earlier this week, state officials confirmed that seven Johnson County residents were among the presumptive positive test results for the novel coronavirus.

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In announcing the first three cases earlier this week, Gov. Kim Reynolds said these individuals returned to the state on March 3. The positive test results were not announced until Sunday and Monday.

However, these individuals did not have symptoms of COVID-19, which include coughing, said Johnson County Public Health Director Dave Koch during a Tuesday press conference with Johnson County Emergency Management and local hospitals.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the virus spreads through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets land on surfaces, which other people touch and then touch their mouth or eyes.

Since the infected individuals did not have these symptoms before, Koch emphasized the risk to the general public “is extremely low.”

“I want to assure the public that although they were in the community, and continue to be in the community, they’re not symptomatic and therefore they are not risking the general public health,” he said.

4:32 p.m. Iowa’s public universities to move quickly toward virtual instruction amid COVID-19 fears

Iowa’s Board of Regents has asked its three public universities to “move as quickly as possible toward the ability to deliver instruction virtually” amid rapidly-escalating concerns over a spreading novel coronavirus that’s arrived in Iowa.

4:25 p.m. Attorney General cautions Iowans to beware of price-gouging, fraud

In addition to price-gouging, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller is advising Iowans to watch out for bogus treatments, phishing scams, charity scams and investment fraud. According to a news release, “The Attorney General’s office has been in contact with Amazon, where high prices for hand sanitizer, protective masks and other products have been reported. Amazon says it has removed several products and high-priced offers and suspended the accounts of third-party sellers who have engaged in price gouging.”

4:09 p.m. Area cancellations

Mercy Iowa City’s Career Fair scheduled for scheduled for Wednesday, March 11, 2020 has been cancelled due to the high prevalence of influenza and other respiratory illnesses reported in Johnson County.

The Cedar Rapids Fire Deparment has canceled the Adult Resource Expo scheduled for Wednesday, March 25, for the safety of visitors and staff and to limit exposures with the recent cases of COVID-19 in Iowa.

3:23 p.m. Iowa’s Grinnell College sends students home for semester amid COVID-19 fears

Iowa’s private Grinnell College has become the state’s first institute of higher education to send students home for the rest of the semester due to the spreading coronavirus.

In a Tuesday message to his campus community, Grinnell President Raynard Kington directed all of his college’s 1,700-some students to “make plans to go home for spring break and finish the semester there.”

3:21 p.m. Local blood center predicts impact to supply

The Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center is predicting an impact in the nation’s blood supply as a result of preparations around COVID-19, the novel coronavirus that has infected eight Iowans as of Tuesday.

As events are canceled and work-from-home policies are implemented across the country, participation in office and community-based blood drives as decreased significantly, said Kirby Winn, spokesman for the Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center.

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Locally, two of the center’s blood drives have been canceled in recent weeks “because of policies implemented by the host organization to help contain the outbreak,” according to a Tuesday news release.

Blood center officials urged Iowans to continue to donate individually. Winn said individuals are not at risk of contracting COVID-19 from donating blood, and the virus presents no known risk to the safety of the nation’s blood supply.

“We are concerned, however, that misinformation could negatively impact the blood supply, i.e. if donors refrain from blood donation over fear of contracting the virus,” Winn said in a news release.

2:55 p.m. Raining Rose hits pause on hand sanitizer orders

Raining Rose, which manufactures cosmetics and personal care products in Cedar Rapids, on Monday temporarily stopped accepting orders for hand sanitizer products, including gels and sprays.

Chief Sales Officer Mike Wehr said the company noticed early last week that it was low on inventory, including ingredients, bottles and caps. Raining Rose had burned through about three months of inventory over a two-week time frame, including 400,000 product units scheduled for shipping last week, he said.

Wehr said this represented a new level of demand for hand sanitizer products from Raining Rose’s customers — which include major cities, airlines and cruise lines.

“I think we had a little bit of an uptick, not quite as crazy, with the swine flu ... but I’ve been here almost 17 years, I’ve never seen our phones ring like they did, constantly” from last Thursday onward, he said.

One Raining Rose representative returned to work from the weekend to find 56 voicemails, an unusually high number, waiting, Wehr said.

The company has received multiple order requests ranging from 100,000 to 250,000 hand sanitizer units, and a few order requests upward of 1 million units, including one for 10 million units.

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“I think it’s all pointing back to the coronavirus and the public’s perception,” Wehr said. “Anywhere people can find hand sanitizer, they’re trying to grab it up.”

Raining Rose expects to resume filling hand sanitizer orders in two or three weeks. Wehr said the company has not observed any increase or decrease in demand for its other products, which include lip balm, lotion and sunscreen.

1:33 p.m. Mission Creek is on but offers refunds

Mission Creek Festival, an annual event with music and literature in Iowa City, is on as planned, but organizers are offering refunds for anyone who is feeling sick as the festival approaches or who is uncomfortable attending.

“As we prepare for the upcoming festival (April 1-4), our team is closely watching the developing situation with COVID-19 (coronavirus). The safety of the community — our patrons, artists and staff — is our top priority. We are specifically tracking local, county, state and national health advisories as well as staying in touch with the appropriate officials at the county and city,” said an email from the festival, which is put on by the Englert Theatre. “We are refining our disinfection regimen at our home venue the Englert Theatre, and working with our partner venues to achieve the best hygienic standards.”

The message encouraged anyone who feels sick to stay home from the festival. Anyone who would like a refund can contact the box office at (319) 688-2653. Options include transferring ticket costs to a gift certificate, a pass for the 2021 festival, or a standard refund.

“We’ll also be adding an alert bar to our website with information. If anything changes, we’ll make sure to update the website as well as send additional communications via email,” Englert marketing director John Schikendanze said in an email to The Gazette.

1:24 p.m. The Eastern Iowa Airport sees limited impacts

A small number of flights from The Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids have been discontinued for the time being, as part of network-wide schedule adjustments airlines have made in light of the coronavirus outbreak, spokeswoman Pam Hinman said.

American Airlines has reduced the number of daily flights from the airport to Charlotte, N.C., from three to two for the summer.

Delta has reduced daily flights from the airport to Atlanta from three to two for April.

United, on the other hand, will increase its daily number of flights from the airport to Chicago from five to seven, starting in May, though its Saturday schedules will vary, Hinman said.

As of March 9, week-over-week outbound seat capacity is down 0.2 percent, she said.

Officials at The Eastern Iowa Airport said in a release Monday that the Iowa Department of Public Health couldn’t confirm if the first three Johnson County residents with presumptive positive coronavirus cases had traveled through the airport, in returning March 3 from a cruise that traveled through Egypt.

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To date, however, “no local airline staff have been notified by any public health agency regarding additional follow-up related to the three individuals,” Hinman said Monday.

11:58 a.m. Special Olympics Iowa cancels event amid coronavirus concerns

Special Olympics Iowa is canceling its Mid-Winter Tournament later this month because of the reported cases of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, in Johnson County, officials confirmed Tuesday with The Gazette.

“For us, our focus is the health and safety of our entire Special Olympics Iowa community,” said Karen Whitman, marketing and communications coordinator.

The Mid-Winter Tournament was scheduled to take place March 13-14 in Iowa City, North Liberty and Coralville. The event typically draws thousands from across the state, including athletes, their families and friends, Special Olympics staff and volunteers and other members of the community.

On Monday, state public health officials announced that eight Iowans tested positive for the respiratory virus, including seven Johnson County residents.

Considering that the population Special Olympics Iowa works with has an increased risk for illness, Whitman said officials wanted to make sure athletes and those around them are “safe and healthy.”

Whitman said officials with the Iowa-based organization have been in communication with the Iowa Department of Public Health, Special Olympics North America and Special Olympics International.

For any questions, individuals can email Special Olympics Iowa at info@soiowa.org.

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