CORONAVIRUS

Hills Bank confirms it sponsored group in Egyptian cruise linked to Johnson County coronavirus cases

University of Iowa hospitals treating first COVID-19 patient, in 'critical condition'

The Pappajohn Pavilion at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics is shown in Iowa City. (The Gazette)
The Pappajohn Pavilion at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics is shown in Iowa City. (The Gazette)

Johnson County residents who tested positive for COVID-19 — including one who was admitted to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics Wednesday — were part of a travel group sponsored through Hills Bank and Trust.

The bank, headquartered in Hills, Iowa, confirmed to The Gazette on Wednesday the Egyptian cruise that state public health officials say is tied to some of Iowa’s first the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, cases was part of a trip offered to members of the bank’s Friends Club.

As of Wednesday, 14 Iowans have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health. That total includes one individual in Pottawattamie County who recently had traveled to California as well as 13 individuals from Johnson County.

According to state officials, the latest individual from Johnson County who tested positive is between the ages of 61 and 80 years.

The public health department confirmed this individual “was on the same Egyptian cruise as other positive cases.”

The Hills Bank Friends Club’s trip to Egypt — which took place from Feb. 19 to March 2 — included a four-night cruise along the Nile River.

A second Friends Club trip to Egypt, according to a Hills Bank statement to The Gazette, “returned early, as coordinated by our travel agent. We have been working with the (Iowa Department of Public Health) throughout this process.”

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In addition, all Friends Club gatherings and travel have been suspended until further notice, a Hills Bank spokeswoman stated.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the individuals who have tested positive, and we hope they each have a rapid and full recovery,” bank officials stated.

Hills Bank declined to share information on travelers who have been tested.

Customers who qualify to join the bank’s Friends Club are those 50 years and older and maintain $10,000 in household deposits, according to its website.

The number of coronavirus cases globally has passed 118,000, according to the Associated Press on Wednesday, citing the World Health Organization, and causing 4,291 deaths.

WHO on Wednesday officially declared the spread of coronavirus a pandemic — meaning it has spread worldwide.

Patient ‘Appears better’

UIHC said it had admitted its first COVID-19 patient in an email to faculty and staff early Wednesday. Hospital officials confirmed this individual was among the Johnson County residents who had tested positive after traveling to Egypt.

Although he was initially described as being in critical condition, UIHC Chief Medical Officer Theresa Brennan said Wednesday afternoon “the patient appears better today than he was when he arrived last night.”

The campus hospital was alerted in advance of the coronavirus patient’s arrival and previous diagnosis, according to the email from UIHC CEO Suresh Gunasekaran.

“All proper procedures and precautions were followed during the admission process, and staff members were properly protected,” Gunasekaran said. “Our preparation ensured that the patient did not come in contact with anyone who was not properly protected.”

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Gunasekaran’s email reports the patient is in critical condition and “will be isolated for the duration of treatment, so our team members and patients are safe.”

In a news release, UIHC administrators stressed the hospital care team had appropriate measures in place before the patient arrived and are keeping the patient in isolation. That means “other patients are kept at a safe distance, and those caring for this individual are properly protected.”

Gunasekaran said faculty and staff safety, as well as patient safety, “are our top priorities.”

“We are committed to doing everything we can to ensure your safety and meet the needs of those we serve,” Gunasekaran wrote.

In a news release, administrators said that commitment could translate to additional visitor restrictions and screening of those who enter the hospital.

“Currently visitors are limited to two adults (age 18 and older) per patient in most circumstances,” according to a news release.

All the other 13 individuals with presumptive-positive cases are between the ages of 61 and 80 and have been self-isolating at home, officials said.

Iowa’s Board of Regents and universities have responded to the spread by canceling some spring break programs, barring university-sponsored international travel until further notice, and the board on Tuesday asked its campuses to start preparing for virtual education.

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The board advised the universities to provide more details about how it will provide instruction for the rest of the semester no later than Thursday morning.

Spring break starts Saturday.

On Monday, Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a Proclamation of Disaster Emergency activating the Iowa Department of Homeland Security Plan.

Comments: (319) 339-3158, vanessa.miller@thegazette.com; (319) 368-8536, michael.ramm@thegazette.com

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