Health board warns against 'panicked fear'

Board members seek more positive news

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Scott County Board of Health members want to see more positive updates on COVID-19, including recovery rates, so that country residents don’t succumb to “panicked fear.”

Board member Dr. Ann O’Donnell commended health department actions, but said she believes community fears exceed reality.

“I caution Scott County to not function as if we are Chicago and New York,” she said at the county health board meeting Thursday, May 21. The board met online. Members Dr. Kathleen Hanson and Dr. Larry Squire were absent.

O’Donnell noted no mass outbreaks among Scott County nursing homes or retirement centers, a key distinction from other Iowa counties experiencing higher infection rates.

“Our nursing homes have by and large been spared. We haven’t had any significant outbreaks,” she said.

She said the public has a different perception.

“I believe the perception has been the hospitals are full of people who had COVID, we had people dying from the disease regularly, and that we would know there were more people who were sick if we could just do the testing,” she said. “I think it’s important and our responsibility to let people know there’s a reason to still be careful, but not live in a panicked fear …”

Health Board chairman Denise Coiner requested an emphasis on those testing negative.

“It seems we get a different perspective every day about how it’s transmitted,” Coiner said. “I really think we need to know how many people have been tested and are not positive.”

84 percent recovery rate

State health officials report 337 cases detected from 5,657 tests through Monday.

The state health department reports 284 of those recovered and nine died.

Scott County Health Department deputy director Amy Thoreson said that data supports an 84-percent recovery rate. The 53 remaining positive cases remain under treatment.

Scott County shows no nursing home outbreaks. Muscatine County reported three nursing homes with a total of 145 patients, 32 of whom have recovered.

County health department leaders said multiple testing outlets, and changing test procedures limit coordination, and conclusions that can be drawn from the data, especially recovery information.

“We know hospitalization numbers. But that’s information the state is not releasing at the local level. It’s being released at regional level,” said Tiffany Tjepkes, community health manager for the county. “We don’t have a full picture of testing being done in our community. We have a general idea.”

She said county health officials, “meet with Genesis weekly. We know Unitypoint Trinity is doing some testing, but the actual number of tests done daily is not something we’re collecting.

“From a public health aspect, what’s being released is for the region. Some of the data we don’t have the ability to release,” Tjepkes said. “We don’t have the luxury of the full picture of everything that’s happening in our community … Perhaps we can continue to engage the hospital systems to come and tell us about that.”

O’Donnell encouraged more coordination among Quad-City county health departments.

“I guess I assumed in the COVID-19 coalition meetings that information was being shared. It could and maybe should be shared with general public … Share the good and bad. We tend to share the bad, and not tend to share the good.”

Mask limitations

O’Donnell also asked the county health department to emphasize the limited value of face masks and other commonly shared misconceptions.

“…There’s minimal science behind wearing masks, even some conversation how it’s not transmissible on countertop surfaces. It really is person-to-person,” she said.

Health department director Ed Rivers agreed, noting that his admonitions since the beginning of the virus emphasized staying at home and social distancing, not masks.

“If there is a benefit to it, it is to protect others from you if you’re positive and coughing everywhere,” Rivers said. “Wearing them to protect yourself? There is no evidence to indicate that is at all the case.”

Rivers said vaccine development is under way, but may not come in time to prevent a resurgence.

“Studies I’m seeing out of Harvard last week indicated that failing to have a vaccine for herd immunity, we can expect resurgence through 2024 or 2025 … We know it’s likely we’ll have another surge of cases concurrent with flu cases this fall. It looks like COVID might be showing signs of being seasonal. That was unknown before. We need to be prepared in the fall,” Rivers said.

He said public health officials are “resolved to not perpetuate the things that happened after H1N1, where surveillance and preparedness fell by the wayside,” after 2009.

Rivers added that Scott County stockpiles of PPE (personal protective equipment) “that might have been left from H1N1 were by and large expired.

“We ran into problems … a lot of elastic falling apart.” He said MEDIC scrambled early on and “bought all the elastic from Joanne Fabrics and others. We had seamstresses sewing masks.”

Now, county health officials are preparing for mass vaccination.

“We’re reviewing and updating mass clinic plans in the event there is a vaccine in the coming days and months … so we’re in position to either conduct, or cooperate with agencies that may be conducting, mass immunization clinics in our community.”

Waste hauler inspections

The health board also voted to waive its rule requiring inspections of county waste haulers. Rivers said the county required inspections when the landfill drew many haulers. “Now we basically have the cities of Davenport and Bettendorf,” and two private haulers, including Republic, which serves most of rural Scott County. “All do a pretty good job,” he said.

Police and county health officials still will respond to complaints of debris from vehicles, but will not require annual inspections. The health board’s action still faces consideration by Scott County’s Board of Supervisors.

Retirees stick around

County health board members commended Jane Morehouse, the second health department employee to postpone a scheduled retirement because of the virus. Roma Taylor also intended retire in June, but stayed on.

“We’re very happy they decided to stay,” deputy health department director Thoreson said after the meeting.

Morehouse has 20 years with the department and is one of the nurses doing contact tracing to help curb the spread. Taylor has more than 30 years and leads the department’s clinical services.

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