Federal, state, and local authorities are working to get on the same page amidst concerns over the COVID-19 virus pandemic.

Some states – New York, Illinois, and portions of California and Washington state – have issued stay-at-home orders for the general populace, in attempts to stem the tide on the spread of the disease, keep undue pressure off of hospitals and hospital personnel, and bide time for a vaccine to be found, for the public to develop what is known as a “herd immunity” for the virus.

Across Iowa, there has been no official stay-at-home edict issued, but people are being asked to work from home where possible.

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds has taken certain steps to keep Iowans as safe as possible, ordering some businesses closed or having limited hours of operation. 

Recommendations have also been made to have Iowans practice what is being called “social distancing” – staying at least six feet away from other individuals when out and about, if people have to go out and about.

“I’ve asked Iowans to stay calm and stay informed,” Reynolds said during a Tuesday press conference. “Stay home as much as possible.”

“There is no current treatment or vaccine available at this time,” state health officials repeated Tuesday.

It is almost easier to list the businesses which remain open – which includes pharmacies, drive-up financial institutions, grocery stores, hardware stores and restaurants where you may order carry-out food or home delivery. Some child daycare facilities remain open, but only for 10 youth per day, with the clients screened daily for temperature as they enter the building. Day care providers also are being required to report daily to the state. 

Schools remain closed for the foreseeable future and people are being asked to, where possible, work from home. Reduced travel – down by 50 percent – is being reported on Iowa highways and byways, and social gatherings are being limited to 10 people or fewer while social distancing – at least six feet – is highly recommended. 

New cases nearly daily

Monitoring the rate of infection during the last 14 days shows clusters of illness around the state. There are now 119 confirmed cases in the state.

“We are analyzing this information daily,” officials said.

On Tuesday, officials updated the latest information on the spread of the COVID-19 virus, then reporting 44,183 cases of the virus in the U.S. and 544 deaths nationwide. The virus has been identified in 54 states and jurisdictions – all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. That number grows rapidly.

The disease has spread from 13 Iowa counties since March 19, 2020, to 30 Iowa counties as of Tuesday, March 24. Of those tested, 272 tests came back negative Tuesday, for 2,315 negative tests out of 2,439 total tests.

Four Iowa counties reported new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday, including Buchanan, Cedar, Jasper and Warren counties.

There are 19 new cases of the virus in Iowa, health officials reported.

No cases have been reported in Madison County to date, although confirmed cases have been reported in neighboring Warren, Dallas, Adair and Polk counties.

From Tuesday, counties with confirmed cases reported include Johnson 37; Polk 17; Dallas 7; Allamakee 6; Dubuque 6; Linn 6; Muscatine 5; Black Hawk 4; Tama 4; Washington 4; Harrison 3; Cerro Gordo 2; Hancock 2; Pottawattamie 2; Poweshiek 2; Story 2; Woodbury 2; and one apiece in 13 counties – Adair, Buchanan, Carroll, Cedar, Fayette, Henry, Jasper, Kossuth, Scott, Sioux, Wapello, Warren and Winneshiek counties in Iowa.

State officials are still declining to report the number of ICU beds available in Iowa and where those beds might be located, although other states have released those availability figures.

“We’re still working on the numbers,” Iowa health officials said.

Essential workers: who is and who isn’t?

“We will follow the guidelines for essential workers on the homeland security website,” which spells out 17 areas of essential workers, Governor Reynolds said at her Tuesday press conference.

The same question arose Tuesday at the Madison County Supervisors’ meeting, which was held by conference call as two supervisors – Aaron Price and Phil Clifton – are self-quarantining.

Officials plan to hold weekly county supervisor meetings for the foreseeable future, in an effort to keep the public updated on the latest COVID-19 information. Up until now, meetings had been held twice monthly.

For now, secondary roads personnel, county EMS, and the sheriff’s office are being included as essential personnel. 

“You should be coming to work,” supervisor Price said. “We’re expecting you to show up and work but we’re also expecting you to ... work to stop the spread [of the disease].”

 Supervisor Diane Fitch says she has been pleased that the public does not seem to be upset about how the county is running things.

County workers are asking questions of the county concerning childcare, pay, and possible furloughs. Officials are still working on that plan.

“I would like to thank those that are on the front line,” Supervisor Clifton said.

The weekly meeting will be held via conference call, as allowed in a decree from Governor Reynolds last week. The public will be invited to attend the meetings – held Tuesdays at 10 a.m. by telephone conference call.

How many can be tested?

State officials say the number of COVID-19 tests that be conducted daily by the state hygienic lab numbers  1,542, but that is being modified daily as more labs will be able to test for the virus.

The criteria laid out for “tests of public health significance,” state health officials said, “is fluid” and being modified on a daily basis.

“Iowans are doing what Iowans do,” Reynolds said, and indicated there will be no stay at home order until need be.

A number of restrictions were announced last week, including leniency in paying property taxes – without penalty and interest – and extending the deadline for filing state tax forms. The federal government has extended the deadline to mid-July, while state forms are now due by the end of July.

Governor Reynolds issued a state of public health emergency on March 17, because “on March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a global pandemic”, Reynolds said in her emergency proclamation.

At that briefing Iowans were asked to social distance because of the disease.

In that decree, Reynolds stated that all restaurants and bars which offer dine-in seating should close, although official later back-tracked to allow those businesses to offer carry out, and for restaurants to offer home delivery. All fitness centers, movie theaters, and casinos were also ordered shuttered, as well as mass community meetings of more than 10 persons, and that senior citizen centers and adult daycare facilities be closed.

Later in the week, churches were ordered to cease holding church services until the end of the month, leaving local churches to scramble for other ways to get the word out.

More information about the recent actions ordered by state officials may be found at the Iowa Department of Public health website.

“If we feel that ... there is a concern, we would make additional mitigation strategies,” state officials said Tuesday.

Reporter at the Winterset Madisonian. He has also been the managing editor at the Madisonian.