CORONAVIRUS

What is community spread, and what does it mean for the coronavirus in Iowa?

This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in January 2020 shows the 2019 novel corona
This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in January 2020 shows the 2019 novel coronavirus. This virus was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China. (CDC via Associated Press)

When Gov. Kim Reynolds announced over the weekend that public health officials had discovered evidence of “substantial community spread” of COVID-19, her remarks shifted the dynamic in Iowa, causing officials and business leaders to implement more aggressive precautions to slow the spread.

Up until this time, Iowans with confirmed infection of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, were those who recently had traveled to California and Egypt — both locations where the virus had been spreading.

But over the weekend, Reynolds said in a news conference that the Iowa Department of Public Health had discovered three confirmed cases caused by community spread of the virus in Iowa.

“Now is the time to move to the next level of response,” Reynolds said Sunday night as she announced her recommendation that Iowa’s K-12 schools close for four weeks to mitigate the spread.

Here’s what you need to know about community spread, and what it means for Iowa:

What Is Community Spread?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines community spread as people infected with the virus in an area who are not sure how or where they became infected. That means these individuals did not have a recent travel history to an affected state or country and haven’t had recent contact with a confirmed COVID-19 positive case.

Evidence of community spread is a significant change in the way the virus has reached Iowa.

How Do You Slow Community Spread?

Public health experts have said social distancing — avoiding public areas or crowded spaces and staying several feet apart from other individuals — can help slow community spread.

As more states across the country also report instances of community spread, federal public health officials have passed down more guidelines in an effort to mitigate the outbreak.

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On Sunday, the CDC recommended large events and mass gatherings of 50 people or more in the next eight weeks should be canceled or postponed.

K-12 schools across Iowa — including the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City community school districts — announced Monday they are heeding Reynolds’ recommendation and closing for four weeks.

Many Iowa-based organizations and agencies have canceled large events due to COVID-19 and local hospitals have implemented visitor restrictions in an effort to protect patients and staff.

At the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, officials are funneling patients and visitors through two entrances to be able to screen them for the respiratory virus.

How Does COVID-19 Spread?

COVID-19 mainly is contracted person to person through close contact or through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

At this time, people who are believed to be most contagious are those who have symptoms, according to the CDC.

However, officials said it could be possible that some spread occurs before people show symptoms. The CDC stated there are reports of this occurring, “but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.”

Who Has Been Infected in Iowa?

More than 20 individuals have been infected in Iowa, the majority of whom had recent travel history.

While there are a few adults between the ages of 41 and 60 years old among the confirmed cases, most infected Iowans are older, between the ages of 61 and 80 years.

However, Iowa on Sunday announced the state’s first case of a child — an individual whose age was given as being between a newborn and up to 18 — who had a positive test result.

Wait, is my child at risk for becoming sick with COVID-19?

Children, who can be infected with the respiratory virus, do not appear to be at higher risk for it than adults. According to the CDC, adults make up most of the known cases in the United States to date.

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Symptoms of COVID-19 are similar in children as they are in adults, but the CDC reported children with confirmed cases generally have presented with mild symptoms that include fever, runny nose and cough.

A new study published Monday by the medical journal “Pediatrics,” which examined more than 2,000 cases of suspected and confirmed cases of COVID-19 in children in China, found more than 90 percent of all patients were asymptomatic, showing mild or common forms or illness.

Of all the pediatric cases, nearly 6 percent of cases were severe, compared to the 18.5 percent of adults who experience severe symptoms. However, in infants less than a year old, about 10 percent of cases were severe.

But federal health officials have emphasized there still are lingering questions as to how COVID-19 affects children. In addition, there still are many unknowns with the novel coronavirus that first was discovered in Wuhan, China, in January.

Parents and guardians are encouraged to help their child stay healthy by using the same recommendations given to the general public, which include washing hands frequently, using hand sanitizer, avoiding people who are sick and staying home when they are ill.

Comments: (319) 368-8536; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

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Our most important Coronavirus coverage is free to the public.

If you believe local news is essential, especially during this crisis, please donate. Your contribution will support news resources to cover the impact of the pandemic on our local communities.

All donations are tax-deductible.