Linn County Public Health will hold a virtual town hall on staying mentally healthy during the pandemic

2019 novel coronavirus — CDC

Linn County Public Health is hosting a virtual town hall on Friday about what people can do to improve their mental health during the pandemic and the resources available in the community. This is the second town hall in a series LCPH plans to hold every Friday

Four speakers will be available to answer questions and provide information during the town hall: Drew Martel from Foundation 2, Maggie Hartzler from Tanager Place, Christy Aquino from UnityPoint Health and Kathy Koehne from the COVID-19 Mental Health Branch.

The virtual town hall, which begins at noon, will be held via GoToMeeting, a video conference software.

Community members can submit a question via email to with the subject line “Friday Virtual Town Hall.” Questions by email need to be received by 5 p.m. on Thursday, April 16. Questions can also be asked during the virtual town hall by using the chat function in GoToMeeting.

The town hall can be viewed by using the GoToMeeting link. Individuals who want to listen by phone can call 872-240-3212 and enter the access code 168-591-557.

Nearly 80 people watched last Friday’s town hall about community spread, during which LCPH’s Heather Meador and Dustin Hinrichs, along with Dr. Dustin Arnold of UnityPoint Health, answered questions.

Some of the questions people asked had to do with what the hotspots in Cedar Rapids are, what it looks like when someone in Linn County tests positive for the virus and if infections will continue once restrictions are lifted.

Arnold explained during last Friday’s town hall that the virus will still exist after this outbreak has been controlled, but the reproductive number will be lower and there will be more people in the “recovered bucket, rather than the susceptible bucket.” Arnold used the same metaphor during a LCPH press conference in March.

At the March 26 press conference, Arnold talked about “three buckets” of people — those who are susceptible (“all of us because … it’s a novel virus”), those who are infectious and those who have recovered (“very small amount”).

“I do think we will see a little spike in the fall but not to the degree nor the concern that we have at this juncture,” Arnold said during the virtual town hall.

Residents should consider every location a hotspot because there is community spread in Linn County, said Meador, who is the clinical services supervisor at LCPH.

“We’re still learning about this virus, and we’re learning about how it circulates,” Meador said. “We’re seeing individuals that have very mild illness. we’ve also seen some individuals that have tested positive and really had no symptoms of illness whatsoever, and because of that, I want everyone to behave as if everyone that they’re coming into contact with has the virus because we don’t always know.”

LCPH is tracking positive cases by zip code, Meador said. The public, however, only has access to the total number of cases in the county, as well as the age range of those who are infected.

Meador provided information on what happens when a Linn County resident tests positive for the virus. Local health departments contact those who have tested positive for COVID-19 and identify others who may have been exposed — also known as contact tracing.

LCPH also conducts an interview and provides education on how to stop the spread of the virus, including self-isolation instructions. LCPH checks in on people who have tested positive “on a very frequent basis,” Meador said. It used to be daily, but as the number of cases in the county has increased, it’s been harder to check in with everyone every day.

Last Friday, when the town hall was held, there were 225 confirmed cases. As of Wednesday, April 15, that number has increased to 276.

“We are doing frequent checks throughout the duration of the illness for anyone who does test positive for COVID-19 and continue to do those checks until they have been deemed as recovered from the illness,” Meador said. “That time period has a wide range from anywhere eight days to over 20 depending on how ill that person is.”

If someone is not complying with self-isolation instructions, the Linn County Board of Health “has the authority to issue a legal order for the individual to stay at home.” This legal order is enforceable by local law enforcement.

“The Linn County Board of Health has not had to issue such an order for any Linn County residents,” Meador said.

Last week, the Linn County Board of Health published a letter urging residents to stay home and only leave their house for essential trips, such as grocery shopping and picking up medication.

“Think about it this way: every time you go out in public, you are risking your life,” the board wrote in the letter. “This should cause all of us to be incredibly discerning about which trips and errands are essential.”

The board also expressed their support for a shelter in place order, which the Iowa Board of Medicine and Iowa Medical Society have also called for.

Only Gov. Kim Reynolds can issue a shelter-in-place order. There was speculation last month that local officials could issue an order for their city or county, but that is not the case.

“Since there is no vaccine for COVID-19 at the present time, a shelter-in-place order appears to be the strongest mechanism to significantly reduce public interactions, which in turn should slow the transmission rate,” the letter said.

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