Coronavirus impacts Monticello, Jones County

Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     You can’t turn on the news or open the newspaper or scan social media without hearing about coronavirus spreading, not only around the United States, but also around the world.

     Coronavirus (COVID-19) has now impacted communities all over the State of Iowa, including Monticello.

     As of March 14, Iowa has a total of 18 confirmed cases of coronavirus. While no cases have been identified in Jones County, many entities here are taking precautions.

     As of Monday, March 16, Monticello Schools Superintendent Dr. Brian Jaeger shared that schools will be closed through Friday, April 10. The schools will open again on Monday, April 13, unless Gov. Kim Reynolds extends the timeframe.

     This means that all school facilities will be closed to any and all outside groups and organizations.

     “During this time we will be doing deep cleaning of our school facilities to prepare for the students return on April 13,” said Jaeger.

     With school closed, however, the USDA has approved the Monticello School District to serve meals to students during the closure. The district will be offering brown-bag meals free to anyone 18 years of age and under, Monday through Friday, 11-11:30 a.m. The lunches will be available at Carpenter Elementary and the middle school, starting March 23.

     “They will be ‘Grab and Go,’ which means we will be handing them out to people outside of the building,” said Jaeger.

     Right now, the MCSD is on Spring Break. Members of the Monticello High School band and choir were expected to leave on March 15 and travel to Disney World in Florida for the week. Late last week, the trip was postponed (for now) after Disney parks across the country announced they were closing due to coronavirus.

     MHS Vocal Director Brett Kniess sent an e-mail to all band/choir parents asking if they would prefer to just cancel the trip completely and be reimbursed, or reschedule for time in June. (At press time, no final decision had been made.)

     Coronavirus impacted MHS’ individual speech competition.

     The Iowa High School Speech Association announced the cancellation of all March 14 state speech contests across the state, also cancelling the All-State Speech Festival on March 30 at UNI. Schools were given the option of hiring speech judges and conducting their own “state” speech contests. Monticello Speech Director Kim Carlson took the IHSSA up on its offer, and a speech contest involving Monticello and Anamosa high school students was held on Saturday, March 14. (For results of the speech contest, read the article on page AXX inside this week’s Express.)

     School athletics was also impacted by the coronavirus. Indoor track and field meets through March 17 at the University of Dubuque and Iowa State University were also called off. More cancellations are likely.

     Last week, all three major colleges/universities in Iowa and other colleges announced that classes would move to online only versus in-person in the classroom. This includes Kirkwood Community College and its regional centers like right here in Monticello.

     Jones Regional Education Center serves nine area high schools, a total of 330 students, plus a number of college credit students. The regional center also houses 30-plus instructors.

     Students received a letter from KCC President, Dr. Lori Sundberg on the matter. From March 23 through April 10, “students should not attend any of their regularly scheduled classes” at regional centers. Course material will be delivered or taught online or through the school’s distance learning (Zoom). (Kirkwood is currently on Spring Break.)

     JREC Director Lisa Folken said it hasn’t been an easy transition getting instructors and students online. During Spring Break, there will be training opportunities for instructors in using the online (Talon)/Zoom programs.

     The suspension of face-to-face instruction also includes the cancellation of JREC’s April 15 high school academy mandatory orientation for the 2020-21 school year.

     “This will be delivered online now,” said Folken. “There will be more information to come.”

     While students are not allowed to come to JREC, the facility will remain open for some instructors and office staff to answer any questions students may have through this transition.

     “We want to reduce the exposure (to coronavirus) as much as possible,” said Folken.

     JRMC’s primary focus remains the well being of the students and their future success.

     “We want to make sure they feel good about this online format and the instruction they’re getting during this recess,” said Folken. “We will be staying in touch the instructors should a student fall behind. We will continue to meet the students’ learning outcomes.”

     Nursing homes and assisted living centers are especially watching what transpires concerning the coronavirus, as older people and those with underlying health concerns are more susceptible to the virus.

     Monticello Nursing and Rehab Center and Pennington Square in Monticello have had to drastically limit their visitors. Laurissa Martin, administrator, said this decision comes after guidance from the Centers for Medicare/Medicaid Services (CMS) and the American Health Care Association (AHCA).

     “It’s intended to help protect patients and residents and to help prevent the virus from entering a nursing facility, given the sever effects such a virus could have on the elderly,” said Martin.

     This means that those who are not needed to meet the needs of the residents within MNRC/Pennginton or to keep operations going will not be allowed entry.

     Those who will be allowed in include: medical personnel, government officials, and immediate family who are needed for critical reasons such as hospice or medical authorizations.

     Martin said they would be actively screening anyone entering the facilities and requiring everyone to wash their hands upon entry.

     With visiting at a halt for the meantime, MNRC/Pennington is allowing families to FaceTime or Skype with their loved ones between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. You can call the center at 319-465-5415 or e-mail Martin at to set up a time.

     While the new visitor plan was put into place on March 11, Martin said there is no way of knowing when it will be lifted.

     “We will continue to monitor the situation daily and resume our regular visitor policies and procedures as soon as we can assure the safety of our residents,” she said.

     MNRC/Pennington notified all of the families before the plan was put into effect. Martin said everyone wants what’s best for their loved ones at this time.

     “The biggest risk with COVID-19 is that people in the community can carry the infection, not showing any symptoms, visit a loved one in a care facility, and unknowingly expose them,” explained Martin.

     Jones County Extension and 4-H have also been impacted from coronavirus. They will be rescheduling or cancelling Extension-sponsored programs beginning on March 16 and running through April 4.

     “This may be extended if the situation changes,” the Jones County Extension said.

     In addition, they will also be evaluating volunteer-led 4-H meetings in terms of social distancing, number of attendees, and size of the meeting space.

     “Ultimately, we recommend our volunteers consider the community impacts of holding group gatherings during this quickly evolving pandemic,” they said.

     The topic of coronavirus is also planned for discussion during the Monday night, March 16 Monticello City Council meeting and the Tuesday morning, March 17 Jones County Supervisor meeting. The Express will relay the latest information from both governing entities.


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