Aside From Tyson, Where Else COVID Is Spreading In SE Iowa

Southeast Iowa first gained statewide attention, in terms of COVID-19 cases, when rural Washington County rivaled the state’s big cities in its number of positive patients early on in the pandemic.

Washington County’s first cases were reported March 18, though the outbreak at McCreedy Home was not confirmed until April 7. The long-term care facility currently has 26 positive cases of COVID-19 between residents and staff. Statewide, 13 long-term care facilities have reported outbreaks of the respiratory disease among residents and health care workers.

The county’s proximity to neighboring Johnson County, which reported the state’s first batch of cases March 8, likely also contributed to the number of cases they reported early on.

Beginning April 14, Southeast Iowa became a national story when dozens of COVID-19 cases were reported at the Tyson Foods meatpacking plant in rural Louisa County.

Though the region’s focus largely has been on Tyson Foods, which employs about 1,4000 people in the area, cities and counties that have lagged in testing are beginning to increase their capacity. As the number of tests have increased, so have the number of positive cases, particularly in factories and long-term care facilities.

In the southeast seven-county region — Lee, Des Moines, Louisa, Washington, Henry, Van Buren and Jefferson — as of Thursday morning, Louisa County had the highest number of cases at 259 and two deaths. Washington County has the highest number of deaths at five and the second-highest caseload with 131.

In descending order: Henry County — 31 cases, 1 death; Des Moines County — 14 cases, no deaths; Van Buren County — eight cases, no deaths; Jefferson County — six cases, no deaths; and Lee County — four cases, no deaths.

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Testing, however, does not neatly align with caseloads.

Washington County has conducted the most tests in the region at 615 even though Louisa County now has a higher caseload. However, testing only recently ramped up in Louisa County due to the outbreak at the meatpacking plant, while aggressive testing in Washington County has been underway for more than a month.

Van Buren County, which has one small hospital, has tested 54 people and identified eight positive cases. Lee County, which has two medium-size hospitals, has tested 147 people and confirmed only four positive cases.

The low number of positive cases in Lee County, which borders Missouri and Illinois, is somewhat surprising given the number of manufacturing plants, proximity to other states and maximum security prison housed there. No positive cases have been reported among incarcerated people or staff at the Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison, which typically houses about 600 men.

Des Moines County, home to Burlington, the region’s largest city, also has reported few cases despite having the Iowa Army Ammunition Plant in Middletown, a large hospital system and more than a dozen factories and nursing homes.

Over the last couple of weeks, however, cases in factories and a long-term care facility in Burlington have begun to tick up.

According to the Burlington Hawk Eye, employees at Doran & Ward Printing Co. were notified April 21 that an employee had tested positive for COVID-19. Shearer’s Foods, a snack food company, told its workers April 17 that a maintenance worker had contracted the coronavirus. According to the newspaper, Shearer’s employees have reported two additional cases, but the company has yet to confirm them.

The Hawk Eye also has reported Des Moines County’s first case of coronavirus at a long-term care facility, writing a resident of Sunnybrook in Burlington tested positive on April 11.

The majority of Iowa’s positive cases, and thus where testing is being concentrated, are among residents of long-term care facilities, health care professionals and manufacturing employees, including those in meatpacking and food processing.

In Henry County, a male inmate tested positive last week for COVID-19 while at the Iowa Medical and Classification Center (IMCC) in Coralville. A tally of cases listed on the Department of Corrections website says as of Friday 13 inmates at IMCC have tested positive. No other inmates have tested positive according to their count, noting “extensive testing” being conducted at IMCC.


By Elizabeth Meyer
Posted 4/25/20

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