County prepares for COVID-19 - 03-19-20


Coronavirus 03-19-20

County prepares for COVID-19


Local government, businesses, schools and churches are taking precautions regarding the Novel Coronavirus, COVID-19.

   Beginning Friday, March 13 at 6 a.m., the Humboldt North and South Care Centers instituted a “no visitors” policy until further notice.

   “We have no coronavirus or signs of the illness in our facility. We are doing this strictly as a precautionary measure to be proactive because the elderly are susceptible,” said Lisa Minor, Infection Preventative and registered nurse with North Care Center.

   “We are following the guidelines of the Iowa and Department of Public Health, CMS and our local health officials,” Care Center Administrator Leslie Smith said.

   Access to both the North and South Care Centers will be limited to essential staff and necessary vendors. They will have to go through a screening process to make sure they are free from upper respiratory congestion, fever, cough or sore throat. They will also be asked if they have been out of the country in the past 14 days or if they have been knowingly exposed to the Coronavirus. People who fail the screening process will be asked to contact their health provider.

   “We have contacted all family members of our residents and we want to thank them for their patience and understanding during this time, knowing that our goal is always to keep our residents safe,” Smith said.

HCMH policies and plans


The Humboldt County Memorial Hospital (HCMH) took a similar step over the weekend with a “no visitors” policy for residents in Long-Term Care, except essential hospital personnel. HCMH Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Michelle Sleiter said the hospital  “is prepared to take on the first case when it arrives.”

   “We are prepared. We have the equipment we need to do what we need to do. Our staff is competent to take this on,” Sleiter said.

   “CMS (Medicare) changed the guidelines for nursing homes on Friday night (March 13) so we instituted a policy limiting all visitors to our Long-Term Care Unit Saturday morning. We went ahead and made that effective for our Springvale Assisted Living facility,” Sleiter said. 

   “We have made that decision for the health and safety of our Long-Term Care and Assisted Living patients,” Sleiter said. “Our goal is to keep about 75 residents alive. That is harsh, but it is a reality right now.”  

   Special exceptions are being allowed in cases of end of life situations involving a patient.

   All visitors coming into the hospital and care facilities are being screened.

   “We ask them questions regarding fever and common flu symptoms, influenza, strep throat, sore throat, cough, shortness of breath and difficulty breathing. Then we asked travel and exposure questions. Every patient is also being screened through EPIC, our patient care computer system,” the hospital CEO said.

   At the beginning of this week, HCMH is still allowing visitors to see inpatients from the hours of 1-7 p.m. They are being screened. No children under the age of 17 are being allowed to visit at this time.   

   Sleiter reports that both HCMH and UnityPoint Clinic have test kits and the ability to test. The tests are sent off to the Iowa State Hygienic Laboratory and it takes 3-4 days to get the tests results returned. Influenza A and B test results are done in house and results are immediate.

   “If there is not a medical emergency we tell people to stay home. We are working on getting simple plain language out on the different symptoms of different diseases, because many of the symptoms of COVID-19 are the same as Influenza A and B.

   “We are telling people not to come to the hospital if they are having symptoms. Call the hospital (515) 332-4200, or call the UnityPoint Clinic (515) 332-2015 and a health care professional will walk you through what you need to do,” Sleiter said.

   Sleiter said battling a public health pandemic may be daunting, but it is what medical care providers are trained to do in cases of emergencies every day.

   “It’s something we deal with all the time from the standpoint of medical protocols, competency testing and leadership training. Our employees are trained in proper isolation procedures. We normally have that training in August, but with the onset of COVID-19 we pushed that training ahead. On Monday we had a drill where we had a fake patient come into the hospital and went through all of the protocols and screening and then sent the person to the emergency room. We deal with airborne illnesses all of the time. This one is certainly more serious, in that there is no vaccine and because of the virulent nature of the virus and the potential outcomes for a small percentage of the population,” Sleiter said.

   She said while it took awhile to get here this winter, influenza season is in full swing, but HCMH has not experienced a high number of patients, although the hospital and clinic have treated many patients this fall and winter for influenza and pneumonia.

   “The precautions we take for inpatient influenza cases are the same we are taking for COVID-19. We have face masks and eye shields and N95 masks. We are doing group purchasing and finding areas to get items that may not be part of our normal supply chains,” Sleiter said.

   The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is urging healthy citizens not to buy the N95 masks, as they will not protect someone from contracting Novel Coronavirus. Buying the masks in bulk may create a shortage for medical care providers who actually need them.

   In the event local patients become so sick they need intensive care, they will be transferred to a larger care center like UnityPoint Trinity Regional in Fort Dodge. In which case, HCMH beds could be open to taking patients from other hospitals within the UnityPoint Trinity rural affiliate network in north central/northwest Iowa.

   “The government has relaxed regulations and we would be able to take more patients than our 21-bed critical access designation,” Sleiter said. “We can also share staff with other hospitals in the network if the need arises,” Sleiter said.

   Another concern is staffing and protecting the health of care providers should the outbreak reach a pandemic scale locally.

   “Right now, childcare is a concern with school out. We are hopeful that we may be able to enlist some high school students to help provide childcare,” Sleiter said.

   “We have staff available, but we also anticipate sick workers. We have the resources to manage that,” Sleiter said.

   “The beauty of health care is that people put their own lives on the line to benefit others. It is in times of crisis that health care workers are the shining stars, and we feel no less confident in this case.

   “In the case of ‘Code Blue’ everyone comes together. I feel that’s what we are headed for here. We have a number of very qualified people ready to save lives,” Sleiter said. 


School’s out

In a press release last Thursday, the Humboldt Community School district wants to assure families and communities that classes and events would continue as normal for the foreseeable future. That quickly changed on Sunday, as Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds recommended that all schools in the state shut down classes and all activities and athletics for a period of four weeks, until Monday, April 13. Read more about the Humboldt Community School District in a related article elsewhere in this paper.

   While the Iowa High School Boys’ Basketball Championships continued Friday with a bare minimum of fans (100 per team) in attendance, it was announced that the Iowa State High School Speech Contests planned for Saturday, March 14 at Carroll Kuemper, Starmont, Grinnell and Council Bluffs Abraham Lincoln would be cancelled. The All-State Speech Festival planned for Monday, March 30 at UNI has also been cancelled. Any student who is selected an All-State speaker will receive a medal and recognition. The State Speech Association encourages local schools to hire judges to review and rate student performances.


Food and water

The Coronavirus is not contained in water. The Humboldt municipal water supply and all local public and private water supplies are safe to drink from. There is no need to stock up on bottled water.

   Likewise, this emergency does not require people to stock up on paper towels, toilet paper or napkins.

   People should cover their coughs and sneezes with the crook of their forearm, not their hands. Wash hands with warm soapy water for 20 seconds or longer. Avoid crowds and stay home when you are ill.

  “We are prepared. We have the equipment we need to do what we need to do. Our staff is competent to take this on.”

--HCMH CEO Michelle Sleiter on the COVID-19 outbreak

Corona fact sheet 03-19-20

Facts about the Coronavirus 

From Joleen Sernett, Humboldt County Public Health Director and Kim Schipull, HCMH Infection Control Director

What is 2019 Novel Coronavirus?

 2019 Novel Coronavirus, or COVID-19, is a new respiratory virus first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China

How does the virus spread?

It is spread mainly person to person via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, similar to how influenza or other respiratory illnesses spread. It is a new virus and there is essentially no immunity against it. 

What are the symptoms?

Primary symptoms are fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Symptoms may appear anywhere from 2-14 days after an individual is exposed to COVID-19 but the average is 5 days.

How can people protect themselves and prevent the spread?

There is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-10. You can protect yourself and those around you by covering your coughs and sneezes, avoid close contact with those who are sick, washing your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water, avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands, and staying home when you are ill. You can also clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces. This could include tables, doorknobs, light switches, phones, keyboards, sinks, remotes, and countertops. To disinfect you can use most EPA-registered household disinfectants. Another option is to dilute your household bleach. (5 tablespoons bleach per gallon of water or 4 teaspoons bleach per quart of water).

What is the hospital and public health doing regarding COVID-19?

Humboldt County Memorial Hospital and Humboldt County Public Health have been working with the CDC and the Iowa Department of Public Health to ensure we are ready to respond should the need arise. They will direct us in the event we have a positive COVID-19 case.

Who can I call if I have questions or concerns?

Iowa Department of Public Health has set up a hotline that is open 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. You can reach them by dialing 2-1-1.