OTTUMWA — Confirmation of the first three probable cases of coronavirus in Iowa meant the disease has most likely reached the state. More cases were confirmed late Monday.
First spotted late last year, the virus now called COVID-19 has killed nearly 3,900 people worldwide. The vast majority of those deaths were in Hubei, China.
Often overshadowed by the alarm over the deaths is the fact almost 62,400 people have recovered from the virus. Officials have said the situation is serious and that people need to pay attention, but they have pushed back against panic.
Lynelle Diers, director of Wapello County Public Health, said panic can be a challenge during a public health crisis. That’s especially true if a significant number of people immediately jump to the conclusion a head cold is something more serious.
“We call them the walking well,” Diers said. Since doctors and nurses have to make sure people don’t have a serious illness, those people can take time away from more urgent cases.
The Iowa Department of Public Health said symptoms for COVID-19 typically appear between two and 14 days after exposure to the virus. Fever, cough and shortness of breath are the key symptoms. Those most at risk of serious complications generally have underlying medical conditions.
Diers said there are two things people can do to best protect themselves and others. First, don’t work if you’re not well. Second, control your coughs and sneezes.
“If you’re sick, stay home,” Diers said, emphasizing the latter two words. “That does not mean go to the grocery store. That does not mean go shopping.”
Staying home limits the chance for the illness you have, whether a cold, the flu, or COVID-19, to spread. While you’re sick, use a tissue to cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. Diers said a tissue is the best option, followed by coughing into your sleeve at the elbow or shoulder. Covering your mouth with your hands is better than spraying a room with a sneeze, but you should then immediately wash your hands.
Hand washing needs to be a frequent act, Diers said. Hand sanitizers that contain at least 60 percent alcohol will also kill the virus, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control.
The approach of the new virus mirrors the arrival of H1N1 flu in some respects, Diers said. There has been time to watch as other areas respond to the virus and to learn from how they have handled it.
That continues to be the case. Diers said local and regional health care organizations meet regularly, and COVID-19 has been a subject since before it was named. It will continue to be discussed as long as needed.
“We do have monthly meetings with health care organizations,” Diers said. “Ours is coming up, and we will be discussing it at our meeting.”