More than 200 COVID-19 cases confirmed in Linn County, Cedar Rapids may close parks and trails due to overcrowding

Linn County Public Health’s Heather Meador at a press conference on Thursday, April 9. — video still

The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 continues to increase daily in Linn County, which has the most positive cases and deaths caused by the virus of any county in Iowa.

On average, the number of cases has increased by 12 each day since March 21, when the first positive cases of the virus were confirmed in the county. As of Thursday, April 9, there are 215 confirmed cases and nine deaths.

Of those cases, 88 — or 41 percent — are linked to an outbreak at Heritage Specialty Care, a long-term care facility in Cedar Rapids.

During a Linn County Public Health press conference on Thursday, LCPH’s Heather Meador shared that the 88 cases include 58 residents and 30 staff members who have been diagnosed with COVID-19. Twelve of those residents have recovered and at least six staff members have also recovered and returned to work.

Also at the press conference, Supervisor Stacey Walker said a Linn County employee has tested positive for COVID-19. On Tuesday, the Gazette reported that the Linn County Courthouse closed that morning after court officials received information that a janitor in the building might have the virus.

Walker did not comment on the specifics of the case that were reported by the Gazette but did mention the employee has not been in a county facility since April 2 and had minimal in person contact with other employees. The building the employee worked in has been under restricted access to the public and has since been cleaned and sanitized.

Linn County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden told the Gazette on Wednesday, he thought the situation had been mishandled.

“Why did no one in a position of authority with the county advise my office of a potential COVID-19 exposure in the courthouse?” Vander Sanden said. “If the health and safety of county employees is truly a matter of concern to you, I would think that a timely phone call or email was in order. The lack of communication over something so important is perplexing to me.”

According to all three members of the Linn County Board of Supervisors, medical privacy laws prohibited them from disclosing the infected person’s condition without the person’s permission.

“We are not the first government or large organization to have an employee contract COVID-19, and given the persistent nature of the virus, we will not be the last,” Walker said at the press conference. “There may even be more cases in our government to come, and while I won’t announce every case from this podium going forward, this hit close to home for us. This employee was one of our own, a public servant, and this incident further underscores even for us the seriousness of this pandemic.”

Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart spoke about the importance of practicing social distancing, including when outside. The city has closed various outdoor spots but has kept trails and parks open, which Hart said have become crowded as the weather is getting nicer.

“If overcrowding continues to be a problem and a risk for our citizens, we may be forced to close our parks and our trails like some other states have already done,” Hart said. “I hope it doesn’t come to that.”

Hart also thanked restaurants and bars that have been complying with the closures but warned any locations not complying.

“For all of you, I want you to understand that when your license comes up for renewal, that the city council is given information on any violations the license holder has received since the last renewal,” Hart said. “And I’m telling you that if there’s a violation of the orders that are in place during this pandemic, that will play a really important role in my decision whether or not to support that renewal. So please, continue to do the right thing.”

The Cedar Rapids Police Department has been conducting business checks to ensure compliance and has been patrolling outdoor areas. Police Chief Wayne Jerman said businesses and individuals have been following Gov. Kim Reynolds’ orders.

At last week’s LCPH press conference, Jerman shared more details about what enforcement has looked like.

Regarding business closures, Jerman shared “officers have found the overwhelming majority — almost 100 percent” have been complying. With the “small number of businesses” that were not complying, Jerman said officers educated the owners to obtain voluntary compliance, instead of using enforcement.

Incidents of noncompliance with park closures or Reynolds’ guidelines are handled on a case-by-case basis, he said.

“It is a misdemeanor offense, which can be charged, but again, that is our last resort of taking enforcement action,” Jerman said. “We want to educate and ask for voluntary compliance.”

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