OTTUMWA — The month of November has not been friendly for Wapello County. Coronavirus cases since Nov. 1 have increased by nearly 600. That's more than double what the county saw all of October.
As a result, local leaders said Thursday they are "very concerned" as the pandemic rages on.
"I wouldn't say we're in crisis yet, but we're very concerned," Wapello County Emergency Management Director Tim Richmond said. "And we're concerned about the same things that we were concerned about early on in this pandemic."
Those concerns are about how hospitals can keep up with the number of COVID-19 patients. The rally call to "flatten the curve" — which means keep virus transmission in check to prevent large surges of patients that can overflow hospitals — has been re-ignited.
The pandemic has exacerbated a staffing struggle already experienced in the health field. Those on the frontline are fatigued after dealing with an influx of COVID-19 patients while also filling in shifts for open positions or for colleagues who have the virus, Richmond said.
The officials — Richmond, Mayor Tom Lazio and Wapello County Public Health Director Lynelle Diers — urged the community to wear a mask, avoid gatherings, stay home when sick and help flatten the curve.
Bed availability is not the primary concern, they said. Rather, it's whether there are enough workers to staff those beds.
There have been record highs for hospital bed usage around the state, with intensive care unit beds most limited.
"I think it's just common sense: wear a mask, protect yourself and protect those around you," Lazio said.
Lazio echoed the recent proclamation by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, restricting large gatherings and requiring masks indoors around the state.
Diers reminds citizens that even if asymptomatic, people can spread the virus to others.
Encouraging vaccine news from Pfizer and Moderna is encouraging, but approval remains weeks away and distribution would take months.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidance Thursday, recommending that no one gathering for the holiday with people outside of their homes.
Lazio said his family would not be gathering for the holiday. Diers worried about the spike that may occur if families in the area do.
"The pandemic is not over yet," Diers said. "We have holidays coming up, and I know what's going to happen after the holidays — after Thanksgiving and after Christmas. People are going to get together and we're going to continue to see surges of people getting ill from this COVID virus."
"This may be the year you just have to do something different," Lazio said.
Once it becomes available, the vaccine will be distributed first to front-line healthcare workers, then to nursing homes, then to the most vulnerable before opening to the general public.
Diers predicts Wapello County will see a very minimal amount of the vaccine at first.
The Test Iowa Clinic is open, with the most up to date schedule available at WapelloReady.org. Diers said the clinic tested more than 100 people Wednesday.
Recent guidance has changed in terms of immunity after a person is infected with the virus. The CDC says these remain rare, but it is possible. Diers said the county has seen it occur.
"We have had a couple reinfections ... where they tested positive several months ago, started getting sick again and tested positive again," she said. "We are learning more and more about this virus."
She also said the virus is mimicking other diseases by attacking different organs in the body, with patients considered to be recovered later developing cardiac, pulmonary and blood clotting issues, among others.
"This is a scary thing. This is not a virus you want to catch," Diers said. "I strongly urge people to take the action they need, so they don't catch the virus."