Coronavirus is here in Iowa. What does that mean for you?
During a news conference announcing three presumptive COVID-19 coronavirus cases in Iowa, Governor Kim Reynolds tells sick Iowans to stay home. Des Moines Register
State and federal officials say there are simple, everyday steps you can take to avoid catching or spreading respiratory diseases, including COVID-19: Cover your coughs and sneezes, thoroughly wash or sanitize your hands and stay home if you are sick. Get more information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at CDC.gov/coronavirus.
Iowa has its first cases of the novel coronavirus. What does that mean for you and other Iowans?
Gov. Kim Reynolds and public health officials announced Sunday night that three people presumptively tested positive for the virus. Public health officials announced an additional five cases Monday. All are recovering at home in isolation.
Here's what you can expect, based on information that officials have shared with health care providers, schools and businesses:
State officials expect more cases of coronavirus in Iowa
Seven of the eight presumptive cases announced so far are linked to individuals who were on a cruise that traveled around Egypt. But Iowa's top public health official warned that more cases of the coronavirus are likely in Iowa.
"We do expect more cases will be identified in the coming days and weeks, and we'll continue to communicate as those circumstances arise," Gerd Clabaugh, the director of Iowa's Department of Public Health, said.
But unless they get a health care provider's approval, Iowans cannot request to be tested for the coronavirus, which causes a disease known as COVID-19. Health care providers are following these guidelines around a person's symptoms before contacting the state's public health department about testing:
- Individual has fever or respiratory symptoms, tests negative for influenza, and was in close contact with a person confirmed to be infected with COVID-19 in the 14 days prior to illness onset.
- Individual has a history of travel to a COVID-19 affected area in the 14 days prior to illness onset, alongside fever or respiratory symptoms and testing negative for influenza.
- Individual has acute onset of severe respiratory illness such as pneumonia or acute respiratory distress syndrome, tests negative for influenza, and doesn't have history of travel to a COVID-19 affected area.
Those designated affected areas, as of Monday, include China, Iran, South Korea, Italy and Japan.
The State Hygienic Laboratory at the University of Iowa is currently conducting testing for the coronavirus. It has materials to test about 500 people, according to state officials. As of Monday, 51 people have been tested. Eight have tested positive, 32 have tested negative and 11 tests are still pending.
You can go about your daily life, though limitations could expand
For now, state officials say Iowans can mostly go about their daily lives, while encouraging personal hygiene like washing their hands for at least 20 seconds, covering their coughs and sneezes, and staying home when they're sick or have been to certain countries.
"We're going to assess as we go along, and that's really important for everyone to know," Reynolds told reporters at a news conference from the state Capitol. "... As we learn more information, then we'll reassess maybe what we need to do next."
Last week, public health officials asked Iowans who traveled recently to areas abroad with outbreaks of the virus to voluntarily stay at home. That doesn't stop these individuals from going outside, though they have been told to work from home if they can and to stay away from others.
The state is not tracking how many people are isolating themselves because of their travel, Polly Carver-Kimm, a spokeswoman for the Iowa Department of Public Health, said Sunday. The state separately has been monitoring Iowans who have recently traveled to China and Iran.
Any additional limitations on public life will depend on the circumstances of the cases as more information becomes available.
If K-12 schools close or limit classes in the future, that could require parents and guardians to seek child care. If that's not available, adults may have to work from home, which is not an option for all Iowans. That could cause another ripple effect on household incomes, and it raises questions about how the state and federal government will ensure any stringent directives are followed.
Some Iowans are more susceptible to serious illness
Common symptoms of this coronavirus strain are coughing, fever and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. It can spread from person to person, through droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
Stanley Perlman, a professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Iowa, likened some of the symptoms of the novel coronavirus to the seasonal flu. But, he said, people need to be more diligent.
"One should not panic, but this is not, right now, the seasonal flu, because everybody is susceptible," he said. "We don't have immunity to it like people do to the seasonal flu."
The risk of the novel coronavirus could come down to individual health.
Some people who contract the virus will have only minor symptoms. Others, particularly older people and individuals with severe chronic health conditions, are at higher risk of developing more serious illness.
Health experts advise:
- If you consider yourself a relatively healthy person, it's possible any spread of coronavirus to you from within your community might impact you in a mild way. But keeping yourself healthy will help others with more compromised immune systems. Stay as healthy as possible to help others remain healthy.
- If you have a loved one being treated at a clinic or a nursing home that has a reported case of the novel coronavirus, he or she may be quarantined or given strict instructions on limited movement within the facility or at home. Health care workers will be expected to take extra precautions to protect themselves as they treat patients.
- This will be on a case-by-case basis, but you, as a member of the public, may be limited or prohibited from physically visiting your loved one for a period of time, especially in cases involving nursing homes. Health providers may encourage video communication to help offset this. If you visited your loved one recently, you may be subject to instructions aimed at keeping you away from others.
Last week, two hospitals in Cedar Rapids announced plans to restrict patient visits.
"We do sound like a broken record, but the population just needs to be very, very vigilant about handwashing ... if you have any symptoms, remaining away from other people," said Brent Willett, president and CEO of the Iowa Health Care Association, which works with facilities like nursing homes.
If you think you're showing symptoms of the virus, you may be asked to report that to public health officials or your local health care provider.
Before you see your doctor, call ahead. Health care providers may be inundated quickly with coronavirus-related cases. It's possible your doctor's office will instruct you to stay home to reduce the chance of exposing others to the virus.
Plan now for what you might need
Public health officials want Iowans to stay calm.
And aside from personal hygiene, they want Iowans to plan:
- If you're asked to stay home for a prolonged period of time as a precaution, think of potential supplies you might need during that time, including food and several weeks of medications.
- In the meantime, make a family plan to walk through what you and others might need in the event that people in your household must stay home. That includes talking to a loved one who lives at a facility like a nursing home. Have a system for checking in on older loved ones who live alone, including neighbors.
There is a lot that is not known about this novel virus, and there are daily developments over its full scope of impact on people. The Iowa Department of Public Health has a website with more information, and officials encourage people to check it often for updates.
Barbara Rodriguez covers health care and politics for the Register. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 515-284-8011. Follow her on Twitter @bcrodriguez.
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