LCHD official declines comment, but provides greater detail on how contact tracing is conducted
BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – A spokeswoman for the United States Postal Service confirmed Monday that the Fort Madison Post Office has two confirmed cases of COVID-19.
Nicole Hill, a communications specialist with the Northland and Hawkeye Districts of the USPS confirmed the cases via email Monday afternoon and said the employees are currently recovering.
The Pen City Current had received several messages had up to five postal workers out of a staff of 27 at the facility have been put in self-isolation.
As of Sunday evening, Lee County has had 18 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with no deaths. Thirteen of those cases are classified as recovered. Des Moines County has had 40 confirmed cases and one death with 15 reported as recovered. Henry County now has had 43 confirmed cases with one death and 29 reported recovered.
Hill wrote that under current law, she couldn’t comment on any other staff under self isolation.
“We are working in conjunction with the local public health office (and) are following their guidance,” Hill wrote. “We believe the risk is low for employees who work at the facility, but we will keep our employees apprised as new information and guidance becomes available.”
“The mail and the public is safe. Coronaviruses are thought to be spread primarily through air-borne respiratory droplets resulting from a sneeze, cough or ordinary speech. Although the virus can survive for a short period of time on some surfaces, both (Centers for Disease Control) and the United States Surgeon General have indicated that it is unlikely to be spread from domestic or international mail, products or packaging.”
Hill said the Postal Service is also currently working to overcome the challenges in securing hand sanitizer, surgical masks and gloves, as well as reinforcing workplace behaviors to ensure that contact between workers, and the public is minimized.
Heather Trimble, the postmaster at the Fort Madison office declined to comment on the situation when reached Thursday afternoon. She directed all questions to the district office in St. Paul, Minn. However Trimble did submit a letter to Pen City Current that can be located at the following link: https://www.pencitycurrent.com/2020/05/11/postmaster-keeping-postal-employees-safe-letter-to-the-editor/
As of last week, the Fort Madison post office has posted recommendations that all patrons where masks and stay six feet apart with lines taped on the floor. They are also utilizing barriers between customer service workers and the public and only allow pens to be used one time between cleanings. They also have hand sanitizer on the customer service counters.
Lee County Health Department Administrator Michele Ross said she couldn’t comment on any specifics related to the Fort Madison Post Office, but did outline how the LCHD staff is conducting contact tracing in general. Ross said LCHD follows up with contact tracing in all confirmed cases in the county.
Some counties in the state are using Iowa National guard servicemen and servicewomen to conduct the tracing, but Ross confirmed Monday that LCHD is still handling those responsibilities internally.
Ross wrote via email Monday, speaking generally, that LCHD staff works to identify all people who may have come in contact with any confirmed positive cases in the county, during the infectious period.
“Some may only identify 1-2 contacts and others may have 5-10 and sometimes even more. If any of those contacts are symptomatic we issue the appropriate isolation guidance and then work to identify all of their close contacts,” Ross wrote.
“A contact is defined as being less than 6 feet away from someone for a prolonged period of time such as more than 30 minutes and, of course, household members.
“The Infectious period for asymptomatic cases is defined as 48 hours before through 10 days after the first date the person tested positive for COVID-19 infection. The Infectious period for symptomatic cases is defined as 48 hours before illness started until the patient is fever free for at least 72 hours AND other symptoms have improved AND at least 10 days have passed since the first symptom began. “
Ross said she understands that the past two months officials have been encouraging a “mass behavioral change in the community” and people are tired and frustrated.
“I understand that. I feel the same way but unfortunately we are not out of the woods yet. We need to proceed with caution and still practice all of these protective measures,” she said regarding the department’s efforts across the county.
“As public health we will do our best to contact people that have been identified as a close contact which could include co-workers, family members, and friends to provide them guidance for isolation due to exposure.
Ross said Lee County residents should assume the virus is right in front of them when out in public.
“Everyone should take precautions to protect themselves and assume the person in front of them in line at a grocery store may have the virus and stay six feet apart-wear a face covering and wash hands immediately when leaving the store: they should assume the person that pumped gas ahead of them could have the virus and use hand sanitizer immediately after touching the handle and wash hands as soon as possible when getting home; they should consider leaving packages sit for 24 hours or so before handling if concerned the cardboard or paper is contaminated; they should continue wiping down supplies and washing fresh produce immediately when bringing them home; continue wearing face coverings to protect others when out in the community and again washing hands frequently; they should talk to their employers to understand and know what safety measures have been taken to protect them while working and request safety materials if needed to do their job safely; and, they should stay home when they have any symptoms that are not their usual baseline (fever, cough, shortness of breath, or other). Those with underlying health conditions or older adults should be protected from possible exposures and limit activities outside their homes.’