Update: On Monday evening the governor’s office issued a press release announcing four more Iowans have tested positive for COVID-19. All four live in Johnson County, and were on the same Egyptian cruise as the people in the county who previously tested positive. All four are between the ages of 61 and 80.
The press release also cited the newly diagnosed case in Pottawattamie County, which county health officials had previously confirmed.
This brings the total number of Iowans who have tested postive for COVID-19 to eight, seven of whom are Johnson County residents.
According to the press release, Gov. Reynolds has signed a “Proclamation of Disaster Emergency,” which “authorizes state agencies to utilize resources including personnel, equipment and facilities to perform activities necessary to prevent, contain and mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 virus.”
The lastest figures from the Iowa Department of Public Health indicate the department is currently waiting on results from a further 11 COVID-19 tests.
Four Iowans, including three residents of Johnson County, have now tested positive for COVID-19. The most recent case was reported by the Pottawatomie County Health Department late Monday afternoon.The inividual is between the ages of 41 adn 60, had recetly visted California, although it is not clear if that’s where the disease was contracted. The three Johnson County cases, however, were the subject of a press conference by Gov. Kim Reynolds on Sunday evening.
The Johnson County cases were the first positive tests in the state. The Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) has been monitoring potentially infected individuals since Feb. 3.
“While this news is concerning, it’s not cause for alarm,” Reynolds told reporters at the press conference. “The most important thing we can do right now is to remain calm, understand the situation and stay informed in the days and weeks ahead.”
IDPH has created a hotline to address concerns about COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Anyone with questions can call 211, seven days a week, 24 hours a day. The department will also update its page on the disease as more information becomes available.
The three infected people had all been on a cruise in Egypt from Feb. 17 to March 2, and returned to Iowa on March 3. All three later sought medical attention for flu-like symptoms. One of the patients is between the ages of 41 and 60 years old. The other two are 61-80.
None of the patients had symptoms serious enough to require hospitalization, and all of them are being treated at their homes, where they are reportedly self-quarantining.
According to the IDPH online site for COVID-19 news, the department has tested a total of 37 people so far — 26 have tested negative and results are still pending on three tests.
As of Friday morning, there were 233 reported cases in 17 states across the country, but the New York Times reported on Monday that documented cases of COVID-19 have begun to rapidly increase.
“The United States faces an accelerating pace of new coronavirus case reports as well as the prospect of more sweeping measures to fight the spread of the virus,” the Times said. “Over the weekend, more than 230 cases were added, and on Monday, the national total approached 600.”
The disease was first documented on Dec. 31, when Chinese doctors identified a cluster of patients suffering respiratory illness, all of whom were associated with the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, Hubei Province. On Jan. 7, 2020, Chinese health authorities confirmed that this cluster was associated with a novel coronavirus, 2019-nCoV,” according to the New England Journal of Medicine.
By the end of January, cases of the disease now known as COVID-19 had been reported in more than 20 countries, including the United States.
The first case in the U.S. was documented in Washington state on Jan. 19, when a 35-year-old man who had had a fever for four days, along with a persistent cough, sought medical attention. The man had recently returned from a trip to Wuhan. The first death attributed to COVID-19 also occurred in Washington — a man in his 50s, who authorities believe contracted the disease while traveling overseas.
There have been 22 deaths attributed to COVID-19 in the United States so far.
“I want Iowans to know that I am confident we are prepared, that we take this situation seriously and we will manage it responsibly,” Gov. Reynolds said at the press conference on Sunday.
The governor said she had partially activated the State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) earlier last week to help coordinate the state’s response to the disease.
“Given today’s development, I have ordered that the SEOC is now fully active, so we can coordinate a statewide response to best meet the needs of Iowans during this time,” she said.
Joining Reynolds at the press conference were IDPH Director Director Gerd Clabaug, Dr. Caitlin Pedati, the IDPH’s medical director, Iowa National Guard Adjutant General Ben Corell, Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management Director Joyce Flinn.
“We do expect more cases will be identified in the coming days and weeks, and we will continue to communicate as those circumstances arise,” Clabaug said.
Documented cases of “community transmission” of the disease — that is, the spread of the disease among people who have no connection to international travel — has increased in the past week, with incidents reported in Washington, California, North Carolina and New York.
Dr. Amy Compton-Phillips, who treated the first COVID-19 patient in Washington, told CNBC that evidence suggested “this virus has been circulating now for several weeks in the U.S.” She added that because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had taken so long to make a reliable test for the disease available, that, “Until now, it’s been circulating unchecked.”
Speaking at the governor’s press conference, Dr. Pedati said she wanted “to emphasis that when we talk about this virus there’s a lot we don’t yet know, and we’re continuing to learn and we’re continuing to work with our partners to learn more.” She added, “There are some things we do understand.”
“We think that this virus is spread through droplets, which means an infected person who might cough or sneeze, and then liquid droplets would land in the eyes, mouth or nose, or even be inhaled by somebody nearby. And so that’s why we give a lot of the public advice that we continue to offer for when we talk about things like washing hands and staying home when you’re sick.”
People should wash their hands for at least 20 seconds — covering all of the hand, including its back and between the fingers — and use soap to reduce chances of infection. Soap helps dissolve the lipid envelope protecting the virus.
“You have to use a little bit of elbow grease, it takes some friction,” according to Dr. Paul Pottinger, director of the Infectious Diseases Clinic at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle. “You’re trying to strip away that surface of lipids and cells, both bacterial and the dead cells from your skin. We’re trying to get rid of them and get them to go down the drain. So you have to use some friction, and you’ve got to cover the entire hand.”
Pedait’s second piece of advice — that people feeling unwell should stay home — may seem as straightforward as hand-washing, but of course it isn’t. Many workers don’t have sick leave and cannot afford to take time off at the first sign of sickness. This is especially true of people who are in low-paying professions, such as food service and preparation, delivery people, drivers for ride-hailing services and workers in most nursing homes, as well as many at-home health attendants.
There are currently no plans at the either the state or federal level to offer support for workers who need to take time off to prevent possible transmission of COVID-19.
A reporter at the press conference asked Pedoti what workers who cannot afford to take time off should do. Gov. Reynolds answered the question.
“Well, they just need to stay home and that’s what we need to say,” she said.