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Treating a pandemic: containment and mitigation

  • 4 min to read

Just how do you get a handle on a pandemic? We’re all learning.

Experts say there are two basic strategies in the control of an outbreak, especially a pandemic like the COVID-19 virus (an amalgamation of the words “Corona Virus Disease of 2019”).

One method is containment, the second method is mitigation. Both containment and mitigation can be used in concert, but the first step is containment, containment, containment.


Containment, or attempts to contain, is what we are seeing and experiencing at this time. The public should expect to see continued containment efforts for the foreseeable future.

Experts say containment is the major method to keep an outbreak from spreading. Unfortunately, containment is only effective as long as there is cooperation and the disease can be contained.

Experts say containment is key in the early stages of an outbreak. The focus is to trace and isolate infected individuals in an attempt to stop the disease from spreading. 

Iowa officials clearly are focusing on containment at this stage of the game. The same is true nationally.

Sporting events affected

Both the NBA and NHL seasons have been halted, there will be no NASCAR events for at least a few weeks. Minor and major league baseball are at risk. So are golf tournaments and the like. Name a sport, it is probably in the mix.

Even one of America’s favorite pastimes, the NCAA basketball tournaments, have been scrubbed for the year. Both men’s and the women’s NCAA tournaments are canceled, along with the NIT.

We saw that last week as the Big 10 and Big 12 tournaments were abruptly canceled, all in the name of containment.

Initially, experts were recommending gatherings of no more than 250 people at events. 

That grew to include the boys’ state basketball tournament. Regular crowds were allowed throughout the weeks into Wells Fargo Arena to view the boys’ basketball playoff games. 

Thursday’s games were played as scheduled, without spectator restriction. That abruptly changed for Friday’s games.

“Only team members, game officials, essential tournament workers, Iowa Events Center staff, limited credentialed media, and select school spectators will be allowed inside the facility,” the Iowa High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) announced. 

“Those spectators will be asked to leave the facility once their game is complete.”

On Friday, when it came time for the Class 1-A, Class 2-A, Class 3-A, and Class 4-A championship games, only 100 tickets were alloted to each school participating in the game. 

Players of each team were counted in that number, along with coaches and staff, with fans being allowed to snap up the remaining sparse number of  tickets.

And Friday’s final round was almost macabre. Small handfuls of fans were allowed to cheer on their teams.

In to see the game, and then out of Wells Fargo Arena.

In Class 1-A, Wapsie Valley of Fairbank beat Algona Garrigan, 65-53. 

In Class 2-A, Boyden-Hull beat previously unbeaten North Linn of Troy Mills, 64-51. 

In Class 3-A, Norwalk edged Sgt. Bluff-Luton 70-68.

In Friday night’s Class 4-A championship, Ankeny defeated Waukee 78-70.

Local events canceled

The concept of containment also came to reality locally, when the Des Moines Catholic Diocese told its diocese to discontinue the popular annual Lenten fish fries among Iowa Catholic churches. The Winterset Knights of Columbus were quick to comply, and did not hold a Friday Fish Fry last week, and will not hold a Friday night meal for the remainder of Lent 2020.

Hardee's is drive-through only

The Winterset Hardee’s announced Monday that it was accepting drive-thru customers only. Tuesday, Iowa Governor Reynolds ordered bars and restaurants seating patrons to close; restaurants would be allowed to offer carry-out. Casinos also were ordered closed.

Gatherings limited

Over the weekend, the national Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommended gathering be limited to 50 people or fewer. 

That’s when we became aware of the new catch-phrase “social distancing”. On Monday, President Donald Trump recommended that groups, if they congregate, should be no larger than ten people or less.

“You have a role to play ... we all have a role to play,” Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, a Madison County native, said in a separate statement Tuesday.

Fareway Stores change hours temporarily

Fareway Stores are adjusting hours to accommodate high-risk and elderly shoppers, separate from the general public.

Iowa Governor Reynolds Tuesday issued an order canceling Iowa Church activities through March 31.

When containment breaks down

When it is no longer possible to contain the spread of the disease, efforts then transition to the mitigation stage. 

Continued measures are taken to slow the spread of the disease, and mitigate its effects on the health care system and society. 

Experts say containment is key, until containment is no longer effective. 

The concept behind containing an outbreak is to give medical professionals time to come up with a vaccine, which is used to mitigate the COVID-19 virus.

A portion of the Stafford Act, which President Trump invoked last week, frees up special powers of the government to deal with emergencies such as health emergencies, among other things.

Among those powers, the Stafford Act allows vaccines to be used that have NOT been clinically tested in humans. In other words, vaccine permutations can be used on humans with out testing on animals. West coast officials recently announced they are experimenting with some experimental treatments on willing test subjects.

A combination of both containment and mitigation measures may be taken at the same time.

Part of managing an infectious disease outbreak is trying to decrease the epidemic peak, known as “flattening the epidemic curve”. 

This decreases the risk of health services being overwhelmed and provides more time for vaccines and treatments to be developed. Non-pharmaceutical interventions that may manage the outbreak include personal preventive measures, such as hand hygiene, wearing face masks and self-quarantine; community measures aimed at social distancing such as closing schools and canceling mass gathering events; community engagement to encourage acceptance and participation in such interventions; as well as environmental measures such surface cleaning.

More drastic actions were taken in China once the severity of the outbreak became apparent, such as quarantining entire cities affecting 60 million individuals in Hubei, and strict travel bans.

Other countries adopted a variety of measures aimed at limiting the spread of the virus as well. South Korea introduced mass screening, localized quarantines, and issuing alerts on restricted movement of affected individuals. 

Singapore provided financial support for those infected who quarantine themselves and imposed large fines for those who failed to do so. 

Taiwan increased face-mask production, and penalized hoarding of medical supplies.

Some countries require people to report flu-like symptoms to their doctor, especially if they have visited mainland China, or other affected countries.

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