Prison, senior care facilities see COVID-19 outbreaks

Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     Jones County not only as a COVID-19 outbreak at the Anamosa State Penitentiary, accounting for over 400 cases, but four congregant living facilities are also seeing outbreaks (two long-term care facilities, an assisted living facility, and a group home).

     Jones County Public Health (JCPH) sent out its weekly update on Friday, Nov. 6. Since March, there have been 1,208 confirmed cases, 862 active cases. The county’s 14-day positivity rate is 39.7 percent. There have been four COVID-19-related deaths; 13 hospitalizations.

     Cases are certainly on the rise:

     • 776 in the last 14 days

     • 645 in the last seven day

     • 471 in the last three days

     “The rate of community spread of COVID-19 within Jones County continues to surpass all previous levels,” JCPH Coordinator Jenna Lovaas. “JCPH recommends residents participate in the important disease mitigation strategies of frequent hand hygiene, staying home when feeling unwell, social distancing, and wearing face coverings when in public.”

     Lovaas said early on during the pandemic in the spring, it took five months for cases in Jones County to reach a couple hundred. Now, it’s only a matter of days.

     An outbreak within a senior care facility is defined by three or more residents testing positive.

     “It’s likely the staff are testing positive because they’re around the residents all day,” said Lovaas.

     Both the Anamosa School District and St. Patrick School in Anamosa are conducting online-only learning. Lovaas reported during the Nov. 5 board of supervisor meeting that the Monticello School District is experiencing staffing issues (absentees) due to COVID.

     Any time a school applies for a waiver from the state to take classes online, the local public health entity is also contacted for verification.

As for whether the Monticello School District will go online, Lovaas said the school is holding off as long as it can. The COVID numbers for just the Monticello ZIP Code don’t necessarily warrant closing the schools just yet.

     While JCPH handed its COVID case investigations over to the Iowa Department of Public Health, JCPH still has access to the information.

     “We’re changing our investigation platform, plus maintaining a level of local control,” she said. “We’ll do as many investigations as we can manage and the state will fill in what we can’t get done.”

     Lovaas said the spread is “pretty bad” throughout the county.

     “It’s significantly worse than ever before.”

     For that reason, Lovaas asked the board of supervisors for permission to continue utilizing intern Ben Ahlrichs for contact tracing purposes.

     “It usually takes five to six hours to deal with a single case,” noted JCPH Specialist Jess Wiedenhoff. “It’s nice to have the extra help.”

     Lovaas shared that the state is two days behind in case investigations.

     Emergency Management Coordinator Brenda Leonard is assisting the senior care facilities with a 14-day supply of PPE, delivered by the DOT.

     She also has access to retired healthcare professionals if these facilities experience a shortage of staff.

     “I’ve had two requests so far,” noted Leonard.

     She was also able to order pediatric facemasks for the schools for the younger students, though gloves are still a rarity.

     Leonard said the area hospitals are short on ventilators and invasive equipment, which she said is a scary thought.

     “They’re (the hospitals) are requesting more PPE because they’re not receiving all that they ordered,” she added. “The state has a stockpile and we have a 30-day supply.”

     The Jones County Treasurer’s Office is closed to the public through Nov. 13 due to a potential COVID exposure. Lovaas urges all county offices/departments to remain in contact with JCPH in instances like this.

     “There are a lot of people coming in and out of there,” Lovaas noted of the Treasurer’s Office.

     Aside from the prison outbreak, Lovaas is at a loss in terms of what is causing this recent rise in cases in Jones County.

     “Right before Halloween we got nailed,” she said. “Jones County has the highest 14-day positivity rate in the state.”


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