BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds reduced coronavirus restrictions on 77 counties in Iowa effective May 1, a move that took a local health official somewhat by surprise.
Michele Ross, Lee County Health Department’s administrators said she thought the Governor might relax restrictions later in the month.
“I’ll say I’m little surprised with the May 1 date. I was thinking it would be a little further out,” Ross said Monday afternoon.
But she said people have to behave appropriately and continue to adhere to prevention measures that have been in place since the beginning of the outbreak.
“I understand businesses and individuals needing to get back to work. But we need people to understand the importance of behaving responsibly,” Ross said.
“If everyone does their part and maintains social distance and practices the prevention strategies we’ve been pushing out from the very beginning that’s gonna help., But please… I just hope people can see how important that is.”
Ross said with Illinois having a stay-at-home order in place until May 30, not only are neighboring Illinois counties looking at Lee County as a place to shake off cabin fever, but with Des Moines and Henry counties to the north also remaining under a closed order, Lee County may become a popular place to get away for a few hours.
“You could have people coming into the county from all over wanting to go to restaurant,” she said. “We have to behave responsibly in this.”
Ross said she’s sure they county will see a surge in positive coronavirus cases and COVID-19 illnesses. The county has moved to seven positive cases, a number Ross admits is low in comparison to some other hot spots in the state.
As of Monday afternoon, the state’s public coronavirus website coronavirus.iowa.gov had Lee County listed with five positive cases, but a release Sunday indicated the county now has seven positive cases, almost double the number from Friday.
Des Moines County has had 17 cases and one death. Henry County has had 32 cases and a single death. Jefferson and Van Buren counties to the west are similar to Lee County with a combined 14 cases and no deaths as of Sunday’s 24-hour state reporting cycle.
“I know in Lee County all along our case numbers have been low in comparison to hot spot counties, but if you look at our data trend they’ve almost nearly doubled. I don’t see that trend decreasing,” Ross said.
“We’re having more testing done in our county and people are understanding the importance of staying home when ill. I think our data compared to bigger counties looks lows, but our trend is going to increase in the next two to four weeks.
Reynolds used a variety of metrics including stabilization of the virus, hospitalizations and recovery rates over the past 14 days in determining which if Iowa’s counties was ready for more activity.
Ross said although Lee County may have low case counts, she doesn’t feel the county has stabilized.
Ross also echoed a repeated statement from Iowa Department of Public Health Director Dr. Caitlin Pedati, in that health officials are continuing to learn about the coronavirus, including some new symptoms, such as temporary lost of taste and smell.
That’s why she said it’s so important for vulnerable Iowans and those that are sick or showing symptoms of illness stay at home.
Ross said it’s going to also be very important that businesses including restaurants and health centers be very aware of sick employees and allow those employees to stay at home as business ramps up in the coming weeks.
“I’m sure there will be a surge in numbers. Businesses need to follow the declaration 100% and limit the number of people served and don’t encourage employees to come to work if they are sick,” Ross said.
“And the public, please do not come out to our businesses if you’re ill. Stay home. If we’re gonna get this virus to go in the right direction, we need people to follow the guidance.”
Effective today, Reynolds also loosed restrictions on state hospital’s ability to conduct elective surgeries if the procedures have a significant impact on the patient’s quality of life. Hospitals have to rely on their own personal protective equipment (PPE) and maintain 30% bed inventory for COVID patients.
Ross said she hasn’t spoken with any county medical systems to see what their plans are for the new order.
Angie Budnik, Fort Madison Community Hospital’s community relations and marketing manager released a statement on Friday regarding the position of Great River Health System.
“The governor’s proclamation for resuming elective surgeries and procedures is lengthy and has many elements and clauses. Before moving forward with resuming elective surgeries and procedures Great River Health, including Fort Madison Community Hospital and Great River Medical Center, is carefully reviewing the details to ensure our actions would comply with the proclamation,” Budnik wrote.
“We are committed to providing the very best care to our patients, while keeping our employees, patients, and community safe from exposure to COVID-19.”