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Sheriff begs people to stay home through virus threat
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Sheriff begs people to stay home through virus threat

From the Coronavirus update Northeast Iowa series

WATERLOO — Black Hawk County Sheriff Tony Thompson on Monday strongly entreated residents to abide by social distancing restrictions meant to slow the coronavirus pandemic.

The said there have been “several” conversations with organizations and groups about their failure to abide by rules banning gatherings of more than 10 people.

“There’s not a lot of room for wiggle in there. There’s not a lot of room for interpretation in there,” Thompson said of Gov. Kim Reynolds’ March 17 proclamation.

He said several people have defied those orders, and it must stop.

“We are just starting to get into that surge period where we’re recognizing significant spread. Don’t forget, 10 days ago in the state of Iowa we only had 44 cases. Now we have 424. So please take a look at that bigger, 50,000-foot view. This is important,” Thompson said.

Asked if that includes Bethany Bible Church in Cedar Falls, which had a parking lot service Sunday, Thompson said “it would.”

“They had people taking coffee and doughnuts car to car,” Thompson said. “I need people staying at home. I don’t want to shame anyone, and that’s a great, great idea. But poor execution.”

Western Home worries

After an outbreak of 21 cases in a Linn County nursing home, Western Home Communities CEO Kris Hansen is worried about employees attending the kind of gatherings Thompson warned against.

“The problem is, it’s not the 3 to 5%, or even that, mortality table that happens inside of our buildings,” he said. “If you introduce that virus into our buildings, the chances are the mortality table goes to 30% to 50%.”

Western Home is screening employees and visitors, and restricting visitations to end-of-life situations only. It’s also using virtual visits and social distancing games while urging independent living residents to shelter in place.

“We really need folks in this community to focus on the ‘we,’ not the ‘me,’” he said. “I don’t know how to put it any clearer than, which one of your grandparents do you want to put at risk to die because you’re not willing to stay social distancing?"

Lower rate of cases

Black Hawk County had just six confirmed cases as of Monday. But that will change.

“Although our confirmed cases are low relative to other larger counties, this is still a serious situation, and we need everybody to continue to do their part in slowing the spread of COVID-19,” said Dr. Nafissa Cisse Egbuonye, director of the Black Hawk County Health Department. “We’re still preparing for those numbers to increase.”

Just .004% of county residents have confirmed cases, significantly lower than Dubuque County at .02%, Linn County at .03% and Johnson County at .04%.

The county also has a lower rate than its smaller neighbors in Northeast Iowa: Tama and Allamakee counties have a .05% rate, while Fayette, Marshall and Winneshiek counties have a .01% rate, and Buchanan County has a .009% rate.

But Egbuonye said the worst is likely yet to come.

“These next two weeks are going to be really telling of where we’re gonna be, not even countywise, but nationally,” she said. “We want to make sure we don’t overwhelm the health care system.”

Protect employees

Egbuonye asked businesses to be flexible with employees, particularly those who were symptomatic or needed to care for a sick loved one or a child.

She pointed to the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which goes into effect Wednesday and mandates some employers provide paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for reasons related to coronavirus.

“Many low-wage workers are afraid to lose their job, and still they cannot afford to stay home if they become sick,” Egbuonye said. “This is not the time to penalize employees. This is the time to do the right thing. ... We do not want sick people to go to work.”

Abraham Funchess with the Waterloo Commission on Human Rights said his organization has received calls from people with symptoms being forced to come to work.

“Obviously, that just flies in the face of conventional wisdom at a time of global pandemic,” Funchess said. “Not only is it discriminatory, but it is unethical and amoral.”

Those with similar complaints were asked to call the human rights office at (319) 291-4441.

Senior food delivery

The Northeast Iowa Area Agency on Aging will increase food deliveries from five meals per week to 14 by the end of the week.

The program covers anyone 60 and older in the agency’s 14-county area, particularly those without transportation or relatives to help shop for them, said CEO Donna Harvey.

She’s also gotten calls from people wanting to know if they can help clean homes.

“Normally, I would say, ‘that’s amazing,’” Harvey said. “But I begged them not to. ... We’re at a whole different time.”

She encouraged those who want to help to call seniors confined to their homes, or donate.

To sign up for meals, home health care, respite or other help call (866) 468-7887.

Immigrant vulnerable

Umaru Balde, a community activist with Cedar Valley Advocates for Immigrants and Refugee Rights, said immigrants are vulnerable to bad information.

Balde said he’s seen a lot of harmful misinformation, including messages claiming those of African descent cannot get coronavirus.

“I want to let people know to try, as much as you can, to avoid those messages,” he said.

A big concern is those who have loved ones in nursing homes and need translation. He urged people to not just show up at facilities to help translate as they normally might.

“Call CVAIRR. Call EMBARC. ... Please, just isolate yourself and give us a call.”

Domingo Pedro, the multi-cultural services assistant director with the YWCA, gave his message Monday in Spanish and Akateko, a Mayan language spoken in Guatemala.

“The point of this meeting today is: We don’t want you to feel forgotten,” Pedro said. “We want you to know the authorities are here for you.”

Briefings cut back

The Emergency Operations Center will hold briefings on Mondays and Thursdays after this week.

Thompson still plans a briefing Tuesday, but will skip Wednesday and begin the new schedule Thursday, barring significant developments.

“We don’t want to keep putting stuff out in front of you every single day,” he said.

He said the county has asked for another shipment from the Strategic National Stockpile of personal protective equipment but has no timeline. MercyOne and UnityPoint currently are OK with their PPE, but will need steady resupply.

“We hope that the state recognizes that, that the federal government recognizes that, and they continue to support and supply,” he said.

Those who are sewing fabric masks to extend the life of N95 masks are asked to call the EOC at (319) 291-4373 with information on how to drop those off.

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