WATERLOO — The Black Hawk County Health Department’s contact tracers are “very overwhelmed” by COVID-19 cases, sometimes taking days to contact people who tested positive, said Director Nafissa Cisse Egbuonye.
The local health department turned over contact tracing to the Iowa Department of Public Health in April due to the high number of cases. Now as cases reach the highest point of the pandemic, the county again has asked for state help. IDPH will provide some staff members to do contact tracing and disease investigation for the county, Egbuonye said.
Egbuonye said her department is able to hire up to 40 contact tracers, but she knows adding staff would be a “financial burden” to the county.
“It’s very difficult,” Egbuonye said. “We’re very tired — public health is tired, the same as the health care workers, and the entire community. But we have to push through.”
The department has two full-time epidemiologists who oversee tracing efforts and serve as liaisons in the community. Egbuonye is in the process of hiring another epidemiologist.
Contact tracers try reaching people who tested positive through phone calls and text messages, and if that doesn’t work, they’re now sending physical letters in the mail. The tracers aim to educate people about the virus, preventive measures and symptoms.
“We are calling because we care about them,” Egbuonye said. “This is not an invasion of privacy. This is because we want to make sure they are taking the necessary steps for their health.”
Some people are not answering messages from the health department — an issue that began in October. The department publicized its phone number, hoping it would stop people from ignoring an unrecognized caller.
Due to the high number of COVID-19 cases, contact tracers are focusing on certain groups before others. This includes 19-24-year-olds, who make up the largest group of local positive cases. They also prioritize children K-12, people over the age of 65 and workers who can’t always socially distance.
Egbuonye said the goal of public health officials should be “unification” during the pandemic, regardless of political affiliations. She asked elected officials to continue telling residents to wear masks, socially distance and wash their hands.
“My hope is that people place value in public health and understand the importance of public health, and really stay away from politicizing public health,” Egbuonye said. “Public health benefits all of us. Public health doesn’t look at situations as blue or red or Black or white or rich or poor. Public health is here to serve all.”
Sullivan family home
Sullivan brothers at home on Adams in Waterloo
Courier Dec. 21, 1941
Sullivans -- Alleta, James, Albert, Madison
Katherine Sullivan McFarland (1922-2016)
Courier Jan. 4, 1942
Sullivan brothers at home
Courier Feb. 15, 1942
Sullivans with Jack Dempsey
Courier March 4, 1942
Courier March 15, 1942
Courier April 26, 1942
Courier Jan. 12, 1943
Courier Jan. 12, 1943
Alleta and Thomas Sullivan
Alleta Sullivan's letter to the Navy
FDR letter fo Sullivan family
location of USS Juneau sinking
U.S. Navy report, Battle of Guadalcanal Nov. 13, 1942
U.S. Navy survivor battle report Nov. 17, 1942
USS Juneau survivor Lester Zook
USS Juneau survivor Lester Zook, close-up
Courier Jan. 14, 1943
Courier Jan. 15, 1943
Red Sullivan and Margaret Jaros
Alleta Sullivan & Margaret Jaros
Courier Jan. 17, 1943
Courier Jan. 19, 1943
'What have you given for war?'
Courier Jan. 27, 1943
Sullivans telegram from vice president
Courier Feb. 3, 1943
Courier Feb. 7, 1943
Courier Feb. 8, 1943
Courier Feb. 9, 1943
U.S. Navy battle report
Navy docs -- President approves USS The Sullivans
Courier Feb. 10, 1943
Courier Feb. 14, 1943
Genevieve and Alleta Sullivan
Courier Feb. 23, 1943
Courier Feb. 24, 1943
Courier April 4, 1943
Navy doc -- USS The Sullivans launch speech April 4, 1943
Courier April 5, 1943
Genevieve heads to Navy training
Genevieve Sullivan WAVE
Courier May 30, 1943
Courier July 11, 1943
Courier Aug. 6, 1943
Purple Hearts bestowed
U.S. Navy Sullivan Purple Hearts document Jan. 24, 1944
Courier Jan. 25, 1944
Courier Feb. 4, 1944
Courier Feb. 13, 1944
Sullivan movie scene
Sullivan movie cast
Courier March 19, 1944
Courier Dec. 31, 1944
Genevieve Sullivan and Murray Davidson
Courier May 1, 1959
Courier Nov. 11, 1962
Courier Sept. 20, 1964
Courier March 2, 1965
Murray Davidson Jr. joins Naval Reserve
Courier April 23, 1973
Alleta Sullivan funeral
Genevieve Davidson obituary
Plaque Schoitz Memorial Hospital
Courier Aug. 6, 1992
Dedication of Convention Center
Sullivan Brothers Museum -- outside
Sullivan Brothers Museum statues
Katherine McFarland, 2008
Katherine McFarland, 2012
Juneau wreckage bittersweet find for Sullivans, families
WATERLOO -- Saturday's discovery of the wreckage of the USS Juneau, on which Waterloo's five Sullivan brothers served and perished with nearly 700 shipmates during World War II, was an emotional, bittersweet experience for the fallen sailors' descendants.
"There's over 700 Navy families affected by this and my heart goes out to all those people," said Kelly Sullivan, granddaughter of Albert Sullivan and grandniece of George, Francis, Joseph and Madison Sullivan, who all died after the Juneau was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine and sunk on Nov. 13, 1942.
"For me, it's like finding my grandfather's grave," said Knute Swensen of Huntington Beach, Calif., the grandson of the Juneau's commanding officer, Capt. Lyman K. Swenson, also among the Juneau dead.
The crew of the Research Vessel Petrel, on an expedition financed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, found the Juneau's wreck at the bottom of "Ironbottom Sound" off Guadalcanal in the Solomons on St. Patrick's Day.
In an audio accompanying a video of the wreckage, Robert Kraft, director of subsea operations for the expedition, noted it was appropriate the Juneau's remains were discovered on St. Patrick's Day, given the Sullivan brothers' Irish heritage.
"The luck of the Irish was with them," Kelly Sullivan said, echoing a wish she made for the USS The Sullivans, the current Navy destroyer named for her grandfather and great uncles, when she christened the ship in Bath, Maine, in 1995. She is the official Navy sponsor of that ship.
This wknd Paul Allen’s team found wreckage of WW2 USS Juneau in Pacific Ocean In 1942 this ship was sunk by Japanese torpedo carrying the 5 Sullivan brothers of Waterloo These Iowa heroes + hundred of others lost their life on that ship protecting our country Shld not b forgotten— ChuckGrassley (@ChuckGrassley) March 20, 2018
The crew of the Petrel sent a message to The Courier, which said: "Our team is comprised of professional subsea operators and engineers with years of experience in the industry who are truly humbled with the opportunity to honor our fallen servicemen and provide some closure to their families."
The crew credited Allen with making the expedition possible.
Ironically, Kelly Sullivan was at the USS The Sullivans on St. Patrick's Day at its home port of Mayport, Fla., attending a retirement celebration for one of its former commanding officers.
"When this discovery happened, I was sitting on the fantail of the Sullivans...It's unbelievable," Sullivan said.
On her return trip home Sunday, she heard word of the discovery from U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Rich Brown, commander of Navy surface forces and a former commanding officer of the USS The Sullivans. Brown was in Waterloo last November for a 75th anniversary commemoration of the Juneau's sinking. On Monday, Knute Swensen contacted her.
"It's bittersweet, this feeling," Sullivan said. "There's closure. It also opens a wound."
She said her father, Albert's son, Jim Sullivan, reacted with surprise and had similar feelings.
"My first thought was my prayers for all the Juneau families, not just the Sullivan brothers," Kelly Sullivan said, and all veterans and their families. She said her great-grandmother, Alleta Sullivan, never really had closure because her sons' bodies were never recovered and held out hope they may have survived.
Swensen said he watched the Petrel's undersea video in amazement as the crew made out the Juneaus name inscribed across the fantail.
"Seeing that video gave me chills," he said.
He also thought of his father, U.S. Navy Cmdr Robert Swensen, who passed away in April 2016 at age 93 and was very close to his father, the Juneau commander. Knute's grandfather's surname was misspelled as "Swenson" by a staff member at the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md., and he never had it corrected. It was at Annapolis, when Robert was a cadet, that the Juneau commander and his son had their last meeting.
In an audio accompanying the video, Kraft of the Petrel expedition notes the ship's bow and stern were found relatively close to each other but the ship's debris was scattered over a mile on the ocean floor -- an indication of the devastating explosion which sunk her.
Most of the sailors were killed during the actual sinking; more than 100 died at sea in the days that followed from wounds, exposure or shark attacks, including George Sullivan, the oldest of the brothers. Ten sailors survived the actual sinking plus a four-person medical crew sent to the USS San Francisco to tend to wounded there prior to the attack.
Swensen hopes the Juneau crew's valor is also remembered. The ship earned multiple battles stars for the engagements in which it fought -- including one the night before its sinking, when it and other outgunned American ships turned back a Japanese task force headed for embattled U.S troops at Guadalcanal.
Sullivan praised Paul Allen's passion for pursuing the expedition -- a lesson she used it as an example for her third-graders at Lincoln Elementary School in Cedar Falls.
"I really admire Mr. Allen and his crew for having the faith to do this," she said, and encouraged her students to pursue their passions as well.
Both were in New York this past November at the 75th anniversary commemoration of the Juneau's sinking at the same Staten Island pier where the ship was commissioned into the Navy in 1997. That ceremony was across New York harbor from the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where the Juneau was commissioned into the Navy and sailed out of the harbor, never to return.
She hopes the USS The Sullivans can sail to the Juneau's final resting place on a future mission, with some of its sailors surviving family members.
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