Staff Columnist

When COVID-19 comes to a small town

Without widespread testing, rural communities are fighting blind

The waiting area at a clinic in Iowa on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
The waiting area at a clinic in Iowa on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

The Iowa Department of Public Health’s COVID-19 map is a patchwork — three dark red counties marking large numbers, a growing swath of orange counties with some cases, and a dwindling smattering of places with no known cases. As of Wednesday, about one third of Iowa’s 99 counties have no reported diagnoses.

But those blank spaces on the map are deceiving — evidence of a lack of testing rather than a lack of infections.

A family member of mine was recently diagnosed with COVID-19, becoming the first announced case in her county this week.

She went to the doctor about two weeks ago with suspected allergies or a sinus infection and was prescribed antibiotics. Late last week, her fever worsened so she visited the doctor again. Only because she works in a doctor’s office was she allowed to be tested, and it came back positive.

My family member had no contact with other confirmed carriers of the virus and no recent trips to places with documented infections.

“That’s why this is so tricky — there are people that don’t meet the criteria and probably do have it but they’re not able to get tested,” my relative told me.

She said she was satisfied with the testing and communication process from the Department of Public Health, which has been checking in once per day. I’m happy to report she’s feeling fine and in good spirits at home.

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So I’m not too worried about her, but I am worried that we don’t know where she got the virus. It just showed up in her relatively rural community with a large elderly population. Whoever she got it from, we don’t know where that person has been before or since.

No state in the country has adequate testing capacity, so the only option left is to make people stay home. Without widespread testing, we are fighting with a blindfold on.

adam.sullivan@thegazette.com; (319) 339-3156

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