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Black Hawk County braces for peak

Black Hawk County braces for peak

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WATERLOO — Black Hawk County still leads the state in coronavirus cases at 1,381 as of Thursday afternoon, county health officials said.

Hospitals are strained but managing to stretch personal protective equipment, said Nafissa Cisse Egbuonye, county health director. Forty-nine people are hospitalized with COVID-19, and the county has recorded 13 deaths.

And officials stressed the county had not yet reached its coronavirus peak.

“The next few days, these next couple of weeks, are going to be difficult for us,” Sheriff Tony Thompson said.

Thompson remained frustrated that his “first line of defense” — Tyson Fresh Meats in Waterloo — had been lost. Egbuonye confimed 90% of the county’s cases were directly or indirectly attributable to the company’s workers.

Tyson voluntarily closed its Waterloo plant April 22 and has not yet said when it plans to reopen.

After the first surge wanes, officials noted, a second wave may be coming as employees pass the virus along to family and friends. Black Hawk County this week also recorded its first long-term care outbreak at Harmony House, where 29 cases have been confirmed.

Other long-term care facilities have recorded positive cases among staff, including Western Home Communities, Ravenwood Specialty Care and NewAldaya.

Jason Bridie, director of marketing for Care Initiatives, which oversees Ravenwood, said he thinks infection control measures have helped prevent any cases among its 375 residents and kept employee cases down to two.

“Certainly, we’re not out of the woods yet,” he said.

On Wednesday, two Black Hawk County Jail staffers tested positive for coronavirus.

“These are the places we did not want to fight the COVID-19 virus. These are the places where our most vulnerable populations sit,” Thompson said. “Our citizens now are at the greatest risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus. That’s not fair. That’s not the way this should be, whatsoever, and we should not be making national news.”

Egbuonye said the numbers reinforce the need for people to stay at home and embrace social distancing.

“It is our time to show the nation we are united and not divided,” she said. “We are a resilient community, and I know we will get through this.”

Black Hawk County is one of 22 counties still under state coronavirus restrictions on businesses until May 15. Grow Cedar Valley CEO Cary Darrah said her organization is working with businesses to help get them ready to reopen when restrictions are lifted.

Darrah said businesses can find action plans and more at GrowCedarValley.com, and businesses do not have to be a member organization to receive help.

“Your business or organization may, and probably will, look different than it did two months ago,” she said. “We believe it’s important to be smart, safe and patient with next steps.”

Egbuonye said her department is also working with area businesses on keeping safe during the pandemic — including Tyson.

“A healthy community is correlated with a healthy economy,” she said. “Businesses creating a healthy and safe work environment for your employees can have a large return on your investment.”

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