LCHD official says she’s “very worried” about the health of the community
BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
LEE COUNTY – Lee County Health Department Administrator Michele Ross said she’s deeply concerned for the health of Lee County as the Delta variant of COVID continues to transmit at a high rate in the county.
And current numbers from the Centers for Disease Control may bear out her concerns.
As of Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. CDC numbers for Lee County showed a 7-day positivity rating of 25.2% more than 17% over the Iowa Department of Public Health’s last reported number of 8.2% on Aug. 26. That means that 1-in-4 COVID tests are currently coming back positive for the virus.
“I am very worried about the health of our community and the growing lack of concern by many,” Ross wrote in an email to Pen City Current Tuesday.
“People are just plain tired of COVID and want it to be gone – including me. Our local health care systems and their teams, our dedicated LCHD team, and many wonderful and caring community volunteers have given endless hours of time to this fight – we are not giving up! It is our hope that everyone will get involved to help decrease community spread, promote vaccinations, and work together from all sectors of the community to win this fight.”
Hospitalizations across the state are up almost 300% since a month ago. The state’s Aug. 26 report had 362 Iowans hospitalized with a primary diagnosis of COVID-19 up from 92 on July 26. A total of 439 Iowans were hospitalized with a primary or secondary diagnosis of COVID, according to Iowa’s coronavirus.iowa.gov website.
That site also shows, again as of Aug. 26, that there were 269 beds still available in the 14-county Region 5 of southeast Iowa, with 39 ICU beds and 159 ventilators. Ross said she expects those numbers to worsen with Wednesday’s state report, based on phone calls and reports to her staff.
CDC numbers show 154 active cases of COVID in Lee County in the past seven days with three new hospitalizations.
The data can be a bit of a shell game when comparing federal and state numbers and that’s been a frustration in reporting accurate data. Ross said IDPH numbers likely won’t match CDC numbers when the state’s new numbers come out Wednesday morning.
She said it won’t be long, if it isn’t here already, that medical teams and resources will be overrun again.
“I believe many are done and over it and just want to move on. The problem is we are surging again and its not over. Before long our local resources will be overwhelmed again – if not already,” Ross said.
“The more cases we see and continued exposures – the easier the virus can mutate and develop other variants.”
Lee County schools are also again starting to see an impact from the virus and the Delta variant.
Dr. Andy Crozier said Central Lee sent home 43 kids on Monday to quarantine due to eight positive family tests in the district.
“We have had eight COVID-19 positives reported to us by parents as of the end of the day (Monday). With those eight positives, 43 students have been recommended to quarantine. We force students to quarantine if someone in the household is positive of COVID-19,” Crozier said Tuesday.
“Our nurses are scrambling to alert parents. Monday mornings are difficult because of the positive cases known over the weekend.”
Crozier said the district is in a difficult position without authorization to take control of the protocols.
“I will say that the state has put us in a difficult position. Without the authority to put additional mitigation strategies in place, we will struggle to prevent COVID-19 spread in any school,” he said.
Superintendent Dr. Erin Slater at Fort Madison said the district has had one staff member absent due to the virus and 24 students absent as of Friday last week. She said if there is a potential exposure in a classroom, parents are notified.
Holy Trinity Catholic Principal Craig Huebner said that system had one family with a positive test prior to the school year, but the quarantine period ended before school started. He said currently the district has no students absent due to the virus.
The IDPH ended individual contact tracing in July, but there are still recommendations in place for those who are symptomatic or who test positive and those who are exposed, Ross said.
“You will see in the news many schools across the country are already experiencing outbreaks. We expect this to continue as schools in Iowa will have many individuals in close proximity in an indoor setting for lengthy periods of time and they are opting to not wear masks nor are they vaccinated due to their age or personal beliefs or other reasons,” Ross said.
LCHD provided updated guidance on isolation and quarantine recommendations from IDPH prior to school starting, as well as sharing CDC recommendations for K-12 schools for recommended mitigation strategies.
She said the Delta variant is the prominent COVID virus in Lee County and is highly contagious and people should take as many precautions as they can to protect themselves and others around them.
In a letter to district residents, Crozier said the district strongly recommended wearing masks if students or staff exposed to the virus haven’t been vaccinated.
Ross said due to Iowa law masks cannot be mandated in schools, but said from a local health perspective, she hopes families are doing everything they can to slow the spread of the virus.
‘We hope all families and individuals are taking current community transmission risks seriously and doing everything they can to help reduce spread and exposure of this virus that is threatening our population’s health,” Ross said.
“We recommend families opt to have their children (especially those who are not of age to be vaccinated) to wear masks when in indoor public settings . Its effective and reduces risks of exposure and spread. We also encourage vaccinations for anyone eligible and of age.”