CEDAR RAPIDS — Linn County officials on Thursday urged community members to limit contact outside of their households and wear face masks as Iowa sees a surge of COVID-19 cases that is upending instruction in schools and threatening to overwhelm Iowa hospitals.
The officials cautioned against easing up on efforts to stop the spread because of “quarantine fatigue” as Iowa reported more than 4,000 new virus cases for the fifth consecutive day.
“Everything is increasing — the spread, the positive COVID cases, the hospitalizations, the deaths,” state Sen. Liz Mathis, D-Hiawatha, said. “We have a record number of health care workers and teachers who are exhausted, quarantined and have contracted the virus.”
The New York Times ranks Cedar Rapids as the No. 1 metro area with the fastest growth in new virus cases per 100,000 residents.
Linn County reported 377 new cases Thursday, with a seven-day average of 403, down slightly after a 20-day streak of record increases. The county’s 24-hour positivity rate is 48.33 percent.
Joe Biden plans to work with state and local governments to issue mask mandates in two months when he becomes president, Mathis said, but the rising case numbers are putting a strain on hospitals and schools right now.
“I’m calling on the governor again to prevent more spread, to prevent more infections or death by enacting a statewide mask mandate and do it now,” Mathis said. She also urged the governor to expand testing availability.
Schools need help
Noreen Bush, superintendent of the Cedar Rapids Community School District, said students and staff have adjusted well to the pandemic’s safety measures, but “we are now pressed as a school district, as many districts are.”
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“We’ve adopted many safety measures, but our community has not,” Bush said. “Because of the community surge of positive cases, the adults and our students in our system have been greatly affected.”
The pandemic, Bush said, is challenging schools every day..
From Oct. 26 to Nov. 9, 245 virus cases have been reported among staff, with 356 staffers having to isolate because they have the virus or have been exposed to individuals testing positive.
Community members face tough choices about what they do for Thanksgiving, Bush said.
Bush said she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, now in remission, in the past six months and will not spend the holiday with her relatives so she can stay well and continue doing her job.
“It has been a unique and challenging year,” Bush said through tears. “We are desperate. We need your help.”
The Iowa Department of Education granted the Cedar Rapids district a waiver for in-person instruction starting Thursday and running until Nov. 30.
“It is our greatest hope” to reopen classrooms Nov. 30, Bush said, but COVID-19 cases need to trend in a better direction or school officials will face another tough call.
Heather Meador, the clinical services supervisor with Linn County Public Health, said the county’s uptick in cases is not tied to any specific event.
Rather, the spread is happening in smaller gatherings where people feel comfortable with family members, friends and neighbors and are lax in observing public health guidelines.
She said Linn County Public Health has updated its definition of a close contact for its contact-tracing efforts using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations.
A “close contact” is someone who:
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• Has been within 6 feet of someone who has COVID-19 for 15 minutes or more in a 24-hour period, starting from two days before the onset of illness or testing.
• Lives in the same household as a person diagnosed with COVID-19.
• Has had direct physical contact (hugged or kissed) with a person with COVID-19.
• Has had respiratory droplets on them from a COVID-19-infected individual by being sneezed on, coughed on, etc.
All of the above encompass a close contact, regardless of mask use. Close contacts are expected to quarantine for 14 days after the last exposure to keep someone who might have been exposed to COVID-19 away from others.
Linn County Public Health advises that a close contact who develops symptoms of COVID-19 or tests positive for COVID-19 should isolate.
If you’re sick
Anyone who is sick or infected should separate themselves from others in their home by staying in a specific area and using a separate bathroom (if available) until they meet all of the following criteria:
• No fever for at least 24 hours without using medicine that reduces fevers.
• Symptoms (such as cough, shortness of breath) have improved.
• At least 10 days have passed since symptoms first appeared.
Meador said Linn County Public Health advises requiring the use of masks or facial coverings in public; capping gatherings at 10 people; limiting restaurants to carryout service only; and working remotely. if possible.
“We can do this, but this is a community effort,” Meador said. “You can’t look at one entity to solve this issue. This is a global pandemic. None of us have been on this before, and we all have to do our part. We all have a part in this.”
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