Sarah Reisetter made a point over the weekend that all Iowans should pay attention to.
Reisetter is the Iowa Department of Public Health’s deputy director. During Gov. Kim Reynolds’ press conference Sunday, Reisetter said everyone in Iowa should assume the virus that causes COVID-19 “is currently circulating in their community.”
Ottumwa already knew the virus was here. There may only be one diagnosed case in Wapello County, according to the most recent figures, but there are surely more. That one person didn’t pick up the virus out of nowhere.
The message is probably more important for those who live in counties where there have not yet been confirmed cases. Those counties are dwindling, but it’s only human nature to hope it isn’t true until proven otherwise. Risking your health or the health of your family on a false hope is unwise, though.
The number of cases in Iowa is still growing. Sunday’s figure was a welcome day-to-day drop after several days of new records, but Monday’s count soared by 88 new cases. Officials announced two more deaths. It would be foolish to believe the state has turned a corner. We’ll get there, but we are not at that point yet.
Reisetter said the peak for Iowa’s cases may come in the next two to three weeks. That means extensions to the measures put in place by Reynolds to enforce social distancing are likely. So is an extension of the closure of area schools. It makes sense to see how things unfold, but if Reisetter’s estimates are correct it means Iowans should expect continuing disruptions.
Iowa’s public health officials deserve credit for their clear messaging through the crisis thus far. It helps that they have kept things simple (wash your hands, stay home if you’re sick) and have generally avoided speculation.
The goal now is to keep Iowa from becoming the COVID hotspot that other states have become. That will not be easy. It has not been easy for people to adapt to the disruptions that have already taken place, and more may be needed.
There’s a temptation to look ahead, to think about what things will be like when life gets back to normal. There’s risk with that, though. The situation is still very changeable. Things are shifting rapidly. Fixating too strongly on a specific date or a specific event leaves people vulnerable to crushing disappointment if more delays or cancellations are needed.
Iowans have made it thus far by taking things one day at a time. That’s all we really can do.
It’s too soon yet to say how long this will last or how bad it will get. We are not near the end. This could not even truthfully be said to be the end of the beginning, to paraphrase Winston Churchill.
Viruses don’t get worn out waiting for communities to relax. They don’t give up when people react to lower their risk. That means we can’t, either.
The picture will be more clear in a couple weeks. We, like you, hope for the best.
But we can’t count on it yet.