As Parts of Iowa Reopen, Black Hawk County Braces For Long Fight

By Nikoel Hytrek

May 1, 2020

With 1,381 positive cases of coronavirus, Black Hawk County is in a harder spot than any other in Iowa.

And it could get harder.

Earlier this week, Donald Trump signed an executive order for meatpacking plants to remain open, despite many of them being the source of COVID-19 outbreaks in their respective communities. About 90 percent of Black Hawk County’s cases can be attributed or tied to the plant, according to health department officials.

Nafissa Cisse Egbuonye, the director of the county’s health department said she’s communicated with Tyson’s corporate officials and there’s no specific date for when the Waterloo plant will reopen.

But there are other calls to reopen. Gov. Kim Reynolds announced Monday she was relaxing some business restrictions imposed by COVID-19. It’s only taking effect in 77 counties where the virus hasn’t spread as far, though there are no travel restrictions imposed between open and restricted counties.

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Egbuonye and Black Hawk County Sheriff Tony Thompson appeared at a press conference yesterday to discuss how the county will continue handling the crisis, especially since cases are still peaking. Both urged county residents to continue staying home, wearing masks and maintaining social distancing for the time being, even when it’s hard.

“As important as it is for me to share with you all the numbers, it is also equally important that I remind everybody these numbers that I share with you all are people,” Egbuonye said. “They are loved, they have names, they have families and stories. So it is our responsibility as a community to continue to do our very best to protect the health of our residents.”

Thompson talked about how the threat has moved to the most vulnerable members of the community: people in long-term care facilities, hospital emergency rooms and corrections facilities.

“That’s not fair. That’s not the way this should be whatsoever and we should not be making national news for these kinds of situations,” he said. “But I concur and I absolutely agree that this is our time to shine and demonstrate what true governance, true leadership and true opportunity looks like.”

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Leaders in the business community and the long-term care industry spoke via Zoom to talk about how the two fields will act going forward. Cary Darah, the president and CEO of Grow Cedar Valley, and Jason Bridie, the director of marketing for Care Initiatives also stepped up to call for the community to stand by the mitigation strategies urged by health care professionals.

Grow Cedar Valley is a nonprofit community development organization and Care Initiatives is a long-term care facility nonprofit .

Because Black Hawk County is one of the 22 counties that won’t be opening yet, they mostly talked about what they’re doing now and what the future might look like.

Darah said her organization has drafted plans for businesses to safely reopen when they decide to and how to adapt workspaces to comply with social distancing.

“Moving forward it’s critical to be smart, safe and take a step by step approach as we reopen the economy,” she said. “Most importantly, now is not the time to let up on the gas.”

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Bridie said the same thing about long-term care facilities, though now Black Hawk County only has one facility with a reported outbreak. He also listed the efforts being made at Care Initiatives facilities like no-visitor policies, PPE for employees and screening employees before shifts and residents throughout the day.

“Certainly, we’re not out of the woods yet,” he said. “We really believe these precautions are helping, but we’re not declaring victory just yet.”


by Nikoel Hytrek
Posted 5/1/20

Iowa Starting Line is an independently-owned progressive news outlet devoted to providing unique, insightful coverage on Iowa news and politics. We need reader support to continue operating — please donate here. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for more coverage.

  • Nikoel Hytrek

    Nikoel Hytrek is Iowa Starting Line’s longest-serving reporter. She covers LGBTQ issues, abortion rights and all topics of interest to Iowans. Her biggest goal is to help connect the dots between policy and people’s real lives. If you have story ideas or tips, send them over to [email protected].

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