State public health officials have put new steps in place in an effort to delay or control a potential spread of the novel coronavirus making its way across the globe.
The Iowa Department of Public Health announced Tuesday it is requesting Iowans who are returning from countries where COVID-19 is spreading to voluntarily isolate themselves in their homes for 14 days. That means individuals should avoid going to work or school and avoid large public gathering spaces where the respiratory virus could spread to others.
Officials have expanded the list of areas in this travel notice to include Hong Kong, Iran, Italy, Japan and South Korea in addition to mainland China, where the virus first appeared in December.
“We recognize staying at home for 14 days is an inconvenience, but it is an important way to limit the spread of a variety of illnesses, including COVID-19,” said State Epidemiologist and IDPH Medical Director Dr. Caitlin Pedati in a news release. “The department urges employers to work with staff to consider flexible leave policies and tele-working options.”
Individuals who self-quarantine should monitor their symptoms. If they do become ill and need to seek medical care, they should call ahead to their doctor’s office and inform them of their recent travel.
Symptoms of COVID-19 can include fever, cough and shortness of breath, and could appear in as few as two days or as many as two weeks after exposure.
Iowa’s public health officials are encouraging individuals to take everyday precautions to stay healthy, which include covering coughs and sneezes, washing hands frequently, using alcohol-based hand sanitizer and staying home when ill.
No Confirmed Cases in Iowa
There are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Iowa.
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Public health officials announced Monday two more Iowans were being tested for the virus, bringing the total number of those tested for the virus to five. The agency declined to offer any identifying information about these individuals.
Results of the testing — which is being conducted by the State Hygienic Lab in Coralville — are still pending. Officials are expecting a 24-hour turnaround on these results.
“I don’t think the number of people being tested is necessarily something to be worried about,” Pedati told reporters during a conference call Tuesday. “I think it’s a reflection that we have this capability and that laboratory, public health, clinical personal and a variety of our partners throughout the state are doing exactly what we would want in a situation like this.”
Nearly 89,000 cases have been confirmed globally and are associated with about 3,000 deaths, according to the latest report from the World Health Organization.
Nationwide, there are now more than 100 confirmed cases in more than a dozen states, with nine deaths linked to the virus. In the state of Washington, where the deaths occurred, some public health officials have suggested the illness could have been spreading within the community for weeks, according to news reports.
Risk for Outbreak Still Low in Iowa
At this time, the risk for an outbreak in Iowa still is low because public health officials have not found evidence that the illness is spreading in Iowa’s communities, Pedati said.
However, the department recognizes there is a potential the virus could be introduced in Iowa, she said. By sharing information early and raising awareness on the tools made available by public health, the state agency can help prepare Iowans with the hope “that never have to use those kinds of plans.”
“We want to make sure people have the opportunity to think through those things and know where to get the information and how to stay informed, so if we do need to do those things, we’re prepared as we possibly can be,” Pedati told reporters.
In her Tuesday morning news conference, Gov. Kim Reynolds said the state public health department is conducting a “pre-pandemic assessment,” measuring supply levels, assessing the workforce preparedness and other logistical preparations for a potential outbreak.
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Reynolds also said she was participating in regular conference calls with the White House and other state governors to ensure preparation is coordinated.
In addition, the Iowa Department of Public Health is holding daily calls with Homeland Security and Emergency Management and conducting frequent outreach to hospitals, long-term care facilities, schools and businesses to ensure they are empowered “to take the steps necessary to protect Iowans.”
“They’ve been very proactive and reaching out and just really addressing a lot of those significant concerns as we prepare,” Reynolds told reporters. “Hopefully, we’re still at a very low risk here in Iowa, but we want to be prepared in case we see that change.”
Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau reporter Erin Murphy contributed to this report.
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