WATERLOO — Black Hawk County experienced a five-fold increase in coronavirus cases the last four days, and health officials warned Monday the actual number is likely five to seven times higher.
“A week ago at this time, we had 12 positive cases in Black Hawk County. Today, we sit at 62,” said Sheriff Tony Thompson. “So we are at the very beginning stages of that surge that we had anticipated.”
Black Hawk County added 15 cases Monday.
The actual number of cases could be five to seven times higher than the official count, said People’s Clinic co-director Dr. Sharon Duclos.
Duclos noted only people meeting the state’s “need to test” guidelines have been tested due to insufficient testing kits and efforts to protect a dwindling supply of personal protective equipment.
“You gotta know, that 62 is what we know,” Duclos said. “But understand, there are a lot of people outside of that that we haven’t tested. ... I just don’t want people to have that false sense of security, ‘Oh, we only have this many.’”
Black Hawk County likely has as many as 310 to 434 individuals with the virus, many of whom may not be showing any symptoms — a statement affirmed by Black Hawk County Health Director Nafissa Cisse Egbuonye.
But she stressed the total number isn’t the point from her standpoint: What is important is everyone should practice social distancing and wash their hands as if every person they come into contact with has the virus.
“Whether you’re confirmed or not, we’re gonna tell you the same thing,” Egbuonye said.
Despite Dr. Russell Adams, chief medical officer at UnityPoint, sharing the number of people who were hospitalized last week, Adams said Monday he was no longer able to give out that information, citing HIPAA.
Similarly, Egbuonye said she is not allowed to reveal the number of COVID-19 patients in county hospitals. Nor would she say if any outbreaks are occurring at long-term care facilities or major workplaces.
“Our outbreak information comes from the state,” Egbuonye said Monday. “We do not communicate any cases unless the governor’s office does first.”
Egbuonye also would not say how many health care workers have been infected. The state has said at least 20% of Iowa cases involve health care workers.
HIPAA, or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, only protects the release of sensitive patient health information, not information about groups of people. Egbuonye herself pointed out other counties have released such information after working with the Iowa Department of Public Health.
A spokeswoman for IDPH was not immediately available for comment Monday.
Thompson said a new shipment of personal protective equipment, or PPE, was delivered to the Emergency Operations Center on Saturday, but the county is awaiting two other shipments he worries may not be forthcoming.
“I’m nervous that everything I’m hearing from the state is, they’re dangerously low,” he said.
He said the county is putting another request for PPE into the state Tuesday. He asks any individuals or groups with masks, gowns, face shields or other material to donate it to Black Hawk County Emergency Management on Newell Road for disbursement to health care entities that desperately needed it.
Businesses need to be flexible and individuals must “buckle down” as coronavirus cases rise and the county may see its first deaths in coming weeks, officials said Monday.
“This is such a critical time for us. This is a sharp increase,” Egbuonye said. “There is absolutely no doubt that a surge in cases is continuing. ... This is not the time to relax any of our mitigation efforts.”
Thompson, a 21-year military veteran, said he understood social distancing measures are “frustrating,” but it is important to soldier on.
“Right now, we are in the middle of what those of us who have deployed in the military call ‘the suck.’ Welcome to ‘the suck,’” he said. “But we need you to buckle down.”
Gov. Kim Reynolds said Monday the state will likely hit its peak of cases at the end of April.
“It’s going to take all of us,” Egbuonye said. “This pandemic will not end without all of us playing our part.”
That means only going out when necessary, wearing a cloth mask every time you do, and staying home completely if you have any symptoms, however mild.
“Start to think, ‘I need to be part of the solution, not part of the problem,’” said Duclos.
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