COVID-19 outbreak identified at long-term care facility in Cedar Rapids; Linn County peak could be four weeks away

Tree of Five Seasons sculpture, Cedar Rapids — Zak Neumann/Little Village

The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Linn County is estimated to peak in the next three to four weeks, Dr. Tony Myers of Mercy Medical Center said during a Linn County Public Health press conference on Monday.

“There’s no way really to predict exactly how bad it’s going to get,” Myers said. “We know it’s going to get worse. It’s really impossible to predict based on our local data of exactly when it’s going to peak. So we have to rely on other data, other data sets across the country and across the world as to what happens when places get to where we are right now.”

“What those data sets would suggest is that this will peak in Linn County in the next three to four weeks.”

Myers said the next 10 to 14 days will “determine how high that peak is [and] how bad it gets.” He continued to encourage people to wash their hands and practice social distancing, because that, along with practicing other recommendations, will impact the peak.

On a state level, Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) Deputy Director Sarah Reisetter said on Sunday Iowa’s first peak might come in the next two to three weeks.

Confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Linn County continue to increase daily since the first confirmed cases on March 21. As of Monday, March 30, Linn County has 71 confirmed cases — passing Johnson County for the most confirmed cases in the state. Two of the six Iowans who have so far died from COVID-19 were Linn County residents.

“It’s not like a virus we’ve ever seen before, and it’s so easily transmittable,” Linn County Public Health’s Heather Meador said. “Symptoms vary from person to person, and that’s why we’re saying no matter how mild your illness is, stay home.”

Of the county’s 71 cases, 21 are tied to an outbreak at a long-term care facility in Cedar Rapids. Last week, the Gazette reported that both employees and residents at Heritage Specialty Care have tested positive for the virus.

IDPH and Linn County Public Health are working closely with the facility to assess the needs of staff and residents, Meador said. Meador did not name the facility or say if the two deaths were related to this specific outbreak.

Meador did provide insight into the steps the county takes once a positive case has been confirmed in the county. Currently, there are five people dedicated to contact tracing, and Linn County Public Health is looking to add more individuals.

“When we have a case that is positive in Linn County, for our Linn County residents, we contact that individual,” Meador said. “We talk to them about, ‘where have you been? Who have you been around?’ — your family members, people at work, others — and then we reach out to those individuals. We give them quite a bit of education on what symptoms to look for, what you need to do if you think you’re ill. And so through that process, if individuals start to become sick, they are contacting their health care provider, as directed by the health department, and then they’re seeking care, and a lot of times that will include testing.”

“We also work with those individuals that have been positive. We call them every day right now to find out how they’re doing. Is there anybody at home that’s having illnesses? So again, as we are out there, and we’re educating and we’re talking to more people, people are starting to recognize their symptoms, and they go in for care.”

Myers also announced that starting on Tuesday, all Mercy Medical Center employees will have a mask on as part of the hospital’s new campaign. The masks are cloth masks that have been donated by volunteers.

“Everybody that doesn’t have direct patient care will be wearing a mask, and that isn’t so much to protect yourself as it is to protect your neighbor,” Myers said. “We should assume right now that any of us — multiple people in this room — could be infected, and so it’s about keeping that distance but also putting that mask on as a show of support to keep our neighbors safe.”

Meador reminded Linn County residents “this is a marathon. This is not a sprint.”

“We understand that this is a time of stress for many, and we’re talking a lot about physical health, but we also need to remember our mental health,” Meador said. “As we continue on this marathon, if you need help, you can call 211 or the Foundation 2 crisis line at 319-362-2174. This line is for everyone.”

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