143 additional COVID-19 cases in Clayton County in past week

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New state proclamation imposes more health measures to reduce COVID-19 spread

By Audrey Posten, Times-Register

The number of new COVID-19 cases in Clayton County continued to surge over the past week, with 143 additional positives, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH). As of Monday, Nov. 16, the county’s total was at 840, compared to 697 on Nov. 9.

Of Clayton County’s 840 confirmed cases, 447 are currently active. The county’s 14-day positivity rate, which measures the percentage of positive tests in that span, sits at 25.7 percent.

Overall, Iowa has a 14-day positivity rate of 23.2 percent, up three points from a week ago. According to IDPH, 94 of the state’s 99 counties are reporting rates over 15 percent.

IDPH said Iowa added 2,335 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, taking the state’s total to 187,056. That’s an increase of 29,174 confirmed cases from a week ago. 

“Over the last two weeks, there have been more than 52,000 new cases of the virus in Iowa,” stated Gov. Kim Reynolds in an address Nov. 16. “To put that into perspective, we had the same number of cases from the beginning of the pandemic in March to mid-August.” 

Iowa also continues to see record coronavirus hospitalizations. As of Monday, 1,392 people around the state were hospitalized, up 358 people from last week. Of those hospitalized, 271 were in the ICU. 

There have been 1,991 deaths in Iowa, including six reported on Monday. According to IDPH, 143 Iowans have died as a result of COVID-19 over the past week. Since the start of the pandemic, Clayton County has had four COVID-19 related deaths.

“About 5 percent of Iowans with COVID-19 require hospitalization, and because of the increase we’ve seen over the last two weeks, our healthcare system is being pushed to the brink,” Reynolds stated. “The number of Iowans in the hospital with COVID-19 has doubled, to the point where one out of every four hospital patients has the virus.” 

Local medical facilities are feeling that strain.

“COVID-19 has hit the communities we serve, and it has hit hard. Our dedicated staff are doing their best to take care of patients, but they are exhausted,” said Tim Ahlers, CEO at Guttenberg Municipal Hospital & Clinics (GMHC).

Officials at Veterans Memorial Hospital in Waukon monitor their available COVID beds daily, reporting them to the state. This continuous communication allows all area hospitals to know where beds are open in case they need to admit a patient at a different hospital.

“We meet twice a week to evaluate our available beds, our testing supplies, our personal protective equipment inventory and our staffing.  If we need to amend our services based on one of these factors, we are ready to do so,” stated Karen Mathis, chief nursing operator at Veterans Memorial Hospital. “We have a COVID Surge Department Plan that we refer to many times a day as our patient census goes up or down, so we know what we need to do when and if our numbers do rise.”

If the state’s healthcare system exceeds capacity, Reynolds said people won’t just be fighting COVID-19. Every Iowan who needs medical care will be put at risk, especially if emergency responders and trauma teams are otherwise occupied or routine procedures can’t be performed.

Ahlers implored community members to do their part to help save lives.

“Statistics show that 80 percent of infected people are below the age of 60. Perhaps this is your son or daughter, granddaughter or grandson, niece or nephew,” he said. “Statistics also show that 90 percent of people who die of COVID-19 are above age 60. Maybe this is your mom or dad, uncle or aunt, grandma or grandpa.”

Although he respects tradition, Ahlers said people should think twice before holding big celebrations this holiday season, in an effort to protect loved ones. Instead, prepare a meal only for those who live under your roof. 

“Does it sound like that is too hard for you?” he asked. “Our health care professionals are doing really hard work right here at GMHC. We’re trying our best to save the lives of your loved ones. And we’re hoping the choices you make this holiday season will make our work a little easier. Help us save lives. Always mask, watch your distance and wash your hands.”

A new proclamation signed by Reynolds on Nov. 16 continues Iowa’s public health disaster emergency and also imposes additional public health measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19. 

The proclamation went into effect on Tuesday and requires that masks be worn when people are in indoor public spaces, but only if they are unable to social distance for 15 minutes or longer. Additional mask requirements are imposed for certain specific establishments and gatherings.

The proclamation also limits indoor social, community, business and leisure gatherings or events to 15 people. Outdoor gatherings are limited to 30. This includes wedding and funeral receptions, family gatherings and conventions. It does not restrict gatherings that occur in the workplace as part of normal daily business or government operations.

With the exception of high school, collegiate and professional sports, all organized youth and adult sports activities of any size are suspended. While high school sports and extracurricular activities are not prohibited, spectators at games or events are limited to two per student and are required to wear a mask and maintain six feet of distance from other spectators.

Restaurants, bars, bowling alleys, arcades, pool halls, bingo halls and indoor playgrounds are required to close at 10 p.m. and cannot host private gatherings of more than 15 people. Masks must be worn by staff who have direct contact with customers, and customers must wear masks when they are not seated at their table to eat or drink. The proclamation also requires masks inside casinos.

This is in addition to guidelines from a Nov. 10 proclamation that stated bars and restaurants are still required to ensure six feet of physical distance between each group or individual dining or drinking, to ensure all patrons have a seat at a table or bar and consume alcohol or food while seated and to limit congregating together closer than six feet. A group seated together is now limited to eight people unless the entire group is from the same household. 

Finally, the proclamation requires hospitals to ensure that inpatient elective procedures are reduced by 50 percent.

The measures will continue until 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 10.

The changes are necessary, said Reynolds, “if we want to keep our businesses open, our kids in school and our health care system stable.”

“If Iowans don’t buy into this, we lose,” she added. “Businesses will close once again. More schools will be forced to go online. Our healthcare system will fail, and the cost in human life will be high. So now is the time to come together for the greater good.”

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