OTTUMWA — Events are moving swiftly less than a week after the first cases of COVID-19 were found in Iowa. The pace mirrors the rapid development of the health crisis worldwide.

On Wednesday the World Health Organization declared the virus a pandemic. The federal Department of Health and Human Services announced $6.3 million in funding for Iowa to support responses to the outbreak, part of a $500 million package for states.

Special Olympics Iowa canceled the 2020 Mid-Winter Tournament, which had been scheduled for this weekend in Iowa City, over concerns about the virus. The organization said it did not believe it could “prudently proceed with the tournament,” and noted many of the people participating in Special Olympics already deal with medical issues that could leave them vulnerable.

Grinnell College on Tuesday instructed students to complete their spring classes online, telling them not to return after spring break. Other schools are contemplating similar measures. The University of Iowa, Iowa State University and Drake University told students Wednesday to plan for online classes.

Sports are being affected as well, though the governing bodies for Iowa high school athletics said Wednesday they are not making immediate changes. Discussions are ongoing, and they have not ruled out cancellations.

Other states have taken that step. Nebraska’s high school boys’ basketball state tournament will not allow the general public to attend games, and Ohio is allowing only family members to attend several state tournaments.

It’s not just cancellations that are affecting people. Some convenience stores, including in Ottumwa, have temporarily banned reusable cups at their soda fountains.

More than 1,000 cases have been found in the United States and more than 121,000 worldwide. There have been 31 fatalities in the U.S. But there is good news. The number of cases in China and South Korea, early hotspots for the outbreak, is declining.

Health officials have consistently said throughout recent days that people can best protect themselves by washing their hands thoroughly and regularly. Cover sneezes and coughs with a tissue or a sleeve, using hands as a last resort. If you sneeze or cough into your hands, you should immediately wash them.

Hand sanitizer does offer some protection, though people should check to make sure it is at least 60 percent alcohol. Lower concentrations will not kill the virus.

Matt Milner can be reached at mmilner@ottumwacourier.com and followed on Twitter @mwmilner

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Managing Editor

Matt Milner currently serves as the Courier's Managing Editor. Milner is a trained weather spotter and is usually outside if there are storms. He joined the Courier in 2002.

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