A local DJ tests positive for COVID-19; Johnson and Linn county officials respond differently

Johnson County Director of Public Health Dave Koch delivers remarks during a press conference. — video still

County government buildings in Johnson County will be closed to the general public starting on Wednesday, and they will remained closed through March 31, according to a press release from the county.

“We’re just changing our business model,” Dave Wilson, director of the county’s Emergency Management Agency, said at press conference on Tuesday afternoon. “Government’s not closed, we’re just changing the way we deliver essential and critical services. We’re trying to move to online services.”

Information on how to access county services can be found on Johnson County’s website.

The focus of the most intense questioning during the press conference had nothing to do with building closures — it was about how the Johnson County Public Health Department responded to a DJ who reportedly performed at several Johnson County venues while displaying symptoms of COVID-19.

Earlier on Tuesday the Gazette reported that an Iowa City-based DJ had been performing at various Johnson County venues, as well as the Longbranch Restaurant and Bar in Cedar Rapids, where he was likely to spread the coronavirus.

The DJ has since tested positive for COVID-19.

The Gazette examined the DJ’s business site to determine what venues the infected person may have performed at.

According to a calendar on the business’s website, in addition to the Longbranch appearances [on March 6 and 13], the business had appearances at Herb N’ Lou’s in West Branch on March 2 and March 9, Blackstone in Iowa City on March 3 and March 10, Shakespeare’s Pub & Grill in Iowa City on March 4 and March 11, the North Dodge Hy-Vee Market Grille in Iowa City on March 3 and March 12, a Moose convention in Cedar Rapids March 6, a private wedding in Iowa City on March 7 and Gene’s, which is inside the Graduate Hotel in Iowa City, on March 13.

Linn County public health officials put out a statement asking people who attended the DJ’s performance at Longbranch to self-isolate for 14 days to help prevent the possible spread of COVID-19. The Johnson County Public Health Department has not made a similar request, or even attempted to inform people who may have encountered the DJ at venues in the county.

The difference is that community spread of COVID-19 is already occurring in Johnson County, Dave Koch, director of the county’s Public Health Department, explained.

Community spread in Johnson County was confirmed by the Iowa Department of Public Health on Sunday. No Linn County resident has been diagnosed with COVID-19 yet.

“The risk to those individuals in the establishments [where the DJ performed] is no higher than the risk to the general public right now due to the widespread community spread that we have in the county,” Koch said in response to a question about why his department had not issued any statement about the DJ.

In his prepared remarks earlier in the press conference, Koch had explained how community spread occurs.

“The most common form of transmission is through respiratory droplets of someone who is sick, which means to become infected, people generally have to be within six feet of someone who is contagious and have the droplets land on them,” he said. “This is why you’re hearing the term ‘social distancing’ and why staying home and limiting community movement is so important to slow the spread of this virus.”

Koch said that’s why the closure of restaurants and bars, and the limiting of public gatherings to 10 people (which Gov. Reynolds ordered on Tuesday) can play an important part in stopping the spread of the disease.

He added, “Anyone who believes they may need to be tested for COVID-19 should call their health care provider first, explain your symptoms and ask about testing, as not everyone who is sick needs testing. Do not show up unannounced at a local health facility, as that can also help spread the virus.”

Although the department didn’t make a public announcement to inform people who attended the performance of the potential problem, it did inform the venue where the infected DJ performed.

COVID-19 Update for Johnson County – March 17, 2020

Live coverage of a press conference on March 17, 2020, at the Johnson County Emergency Operations Center to update the public on the latest information regarding COVID-19 in Johnson County. Comments will not be monitored live. Questions will be followed up on as soon as possible by staff.

Posted by Johnson County Public Health on Tuesday, March 17, 2020

“We contacted all of those businesses directly just to notify them, so that they were aware as well,” Koch said. “There’s no way that we would be able to contact every single person in any of those venues to do that follow-up.”

Responding to reporters’ questions, Koch explained why he didn’t think that sort of follow-up was necessary.

“I don’t know exactly the set-up in each one of those venues — where the DJ was — but again, the majority of those people likely never came within six feet of that individual,” he said. “That’s why the level of risk with a known individual who’s symptomatic is going to be similar to anybody in the community that’s in close contact with somebody else.”

On Tuesday night, the Iowa Department Health announced that another three cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed in Johnson County, bringing the total number of cases in the county to 18. In addition, cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Adair, Blackhawk and Dallas counties on Tuesday.

The six new cases bring the total number of infected individuals in Iowa to 29.

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