JCPH continues to work hard a year into pandemic

Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     “In mid-March, I think I was still optimistic that while COVID might not be completely gone, it wouldn’t be so omnipresent,” reflected Public Health Coordinator Jenna Lovaas on a full year of COVID-19 in Jones County. “That optimism really didn’t last long, though.”

     Despite what seemed like a very long year, Jones County was actually able to start vaccinating people in late December, less than a year later, something Lovaas wasn’t so sure would happen.

     “I’m certainly thankful we have been able to (vaccinate people so early),” she said. “Everything changed so often during this pandemic, especially in the beginning, that anything started to seem possible. So I was always hopeful we wouldn’t be waiting too long for a vaccine.”

     This Saturday, March 27, Jones County will host its 11th community vaccination clinic. Lovaas noted that as the availably of the vaccine becomes more widely available, the need for those Saturday clinics will start to diminish.

     “At some point soon, most pharmacies will have the vaccine,” she shared. “And more doctors’ offices will have it. Right now there is more demand than supply, but that will change soon.”

     JCPH is tentatively planning to wind down its Saturday vaccine clinics by the end of May or June.

     “We are also going to continue to monitor the situation and will adjust if we need to,” Lovaas said.

     Early on, several people declined the option to get the vaccine. Lovaas said they have seen those people since change their mind.

     “But there still seems to be quite a few who have said they don’t want it, which should not surprise me, but it always does,” admitted Lovaas. “As with all vaccines, it comes down to a lot of misinformation readily available and the strong anti-vaccine movement pushing that misinformation.”

     JCPH attests that the COVID-19 vaccines are safe. They are effective.

     “In addition to protecting yourself, you’re protecting everyone around you,” Lovaas said. “And helping us all get back to normal. So please get vaccinated!”

     Jones County experienced a spike in cases in the fall following Halloween and into the Thanksgiving holiday season.

     “The end of October and into November was awful,” noted Lovaas.

     It was during the last week of October that JCPH was contacted by the Anamosa State Penitentiary informing her that they had over 400 inmates test positive. Then, the long-term care facilities in Jones County were exhibiting outbreaks, while cases were also on the rise countywide.

     “For a brief time, our 14-day positivity rate was over 50 percent,” Lovaas recalled, “the highest in the state. The daily number of cases was completely unmanageable, and it took a long time to clean it all up.”

     She admitted some people were missed in terms of follow-ups and contact tracing. “That still bothers me.”

     As many took trips over spring break recently, Lovaas would not be surprised if there was another local surge. She said the spread of COVID variants are on the rise.

     “While we are making good progress with vaccinations, we still need everyone to continue to help slow the spread,” urged Lovaas.

     The same public health guidelines still apply:

     • Wear a mask

     • Practice good hand hygiene

     • Stay home if you don’t feel well

     • Avoid crowds

     • Get tested if you’re exhibiting symptoms

     • Social distance

     • Get vaccinated as soon as it’s offered to you

     Lovaas said she loves her job, loves working in public health, loves working for Jones County. But working during a global pandemic definitely took its toll.

     “Multiple times per week, if not every day, I wonder why I’m still doing this,” Lovaas said with all honesty. “For me, it’s been over a year of working 24/7 and never-ending stress.”

     Lovaas also has young children at home, which added to the challenges of parenting during the pandemic, too.

     She continued, “I would not say that I’m OK. And I worry about my staff, too. I know they’re tired and stressed, as well.”

     Public health across Iowa and the U.S. has seen many people leave their jobs due to COVID burnout. Lovaas said it’s likely more will quit into this year, too.

     When asked to grade Jones County on how it handled the pandemic, Lovaas said it’s a tough question to answer, but felt things went “pretty well.

     “Are there things we could have done better? Of course. There’s always room for improvement and we’re definitely not perfect. But we tried to constantly find the things we needed to improve and made adjustments.

     “We have a pretty awesome team of people, both permanent and temporary, who have made all the difference throughout this response,” she praised.


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