IOWA DERECHO 2020

'Time will tell' whether counties see coronavirus spike following storm cleanup efforts

Public health, while acknowledging extraordinary situation, encourage measures to prevent spread

Cleanup after a natural disaster is complicated and potentially dangerous — and that’s without a pandemic to consider.

Now it’s help your neighbor — but don’t get too close. Keep cool and hydrated — but wear a mask. Work from home — unless, of course, you no longer can due to power, internet and cell service outages.

“Certainly a disaster like this adds layers of complexity,” Johnson County Public Health Community Health Manager Sam Jarvis said.

New COVID-19 cases in Linn and Johnson counties had been trending downward before Monday’s storm walloped the state, leaving hundreds of thousands without power, internet and cell service and with massive property damage, including holes in their roofs and trees through their windows.

Linn County reported 16 new cases and Johnson County added 10 new cases on Thursday. This is the lowest 24-hour total in reported numbers in almost a month, according to state data.

As cleanup was well underway this week, public health officials in those counties were very conscious of the still ongoing community spread of the novel coronavirus, especially as the storm’s impact has necessitated a level of interaction among community members.

“These are very difficult times, and we know that people will do the best they can in this unfortunate situation we are in,” Linn County Public Health officials said in an email to The Gazette.

But as most of the cleanup is happening outside, where experts say the virus is less likely to spread, the possibility of transmitting an infection while working would appear to be less.

Public health officials in Linn County — which bore the brunt of this week’s storm-related damages — observed that many cleanup and recovery efforts seem to be confined to small groups of friends and family, “which is helpful in reducing any potential spread of COVID-19.”

But, Jarvis said, “time will tell.”

Given the current situation, individuals may be staying outside their immediate household or accepting help from those they usually don’t interact with during the pandemic. While understandable, public health officials emphasized the importance of still taking steps to prevent COVID-19 transmission.

That includes wearing a face mask, distancing at least six feet from others and staying home when feeling sick or otherwise exhibiting symptoms.

“We know there are circumstances that may not allow for adherence to all of the prevention measures we are recommending, so we encourage for individuals to follow them as best they can during this trying time,” Linn County Public Health officials said.

The statement continued, “We encourage our community to have compassion for their neighbors, and consider that someone’s mask may have been lost in the storm, or they are unable to launder the one they have, or other similar circumstances.”

When considering work-related risks of reconvening office-loads of employees no longer able to work from home, Jarvis stressed the need for flexibility and innovation.

“These are extraordinary times,” he said. “And we would hope there would be flexible arrangements made possible for everyone. If don’t have power or internet, that can make working from home extremely difficult.”

Comments: (319) 398-8469; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

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