At-Risk Iowan Turns To Small-Town IL; Tests Positive For COVID-19

By Elizabeth Meyer

May 5, 2020

Wendi Riggens thought she had a sinus infection. The symptoms were mild, but it was her loss of taste and smell that prompted the Burlington woman to seek a COVID-19 test. Coupled with a nagging fever, headache and congestion, Riggens wanted an answer.

She is a Type 1 diabetic and therefore at higher risk of complications associated with COVID-19.

Riggens’ primary care provider told her she did not meet the criteria to be tested locally because she did not have a cough and had no known contact with a COVID-positive person.

Des Moines County has tested 331 people as of Monday morning. Twenty-one positive cases have been confirmed and one person in the Southeast Iowa county has died. Twelve people are considered recovered.

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Riggens said she trusted her doctor and was not upset that she was denied a test, but given her preexisting condition and the fact her husband is an essential worker, she felt it was important to know whether she had contracted the respiratory disease that has infected more than 10,000 Iowans and killed 207.

“Normally with sinus infections, if I get a fever, it’s minor and I can’t really feel it,” said Riggens, 38. “But at 99.5 (degrees) or 99.7 … the entire time it felt like a high fever. My body hurt and I was tired and I would break out and be pouring sweat head-to-toe and not break 100 degrees. That is very not normal for me.”

After she was denied a test locally, Riggens used the TestIowa website to see if she qualified. She did, but was told to report to the drive-up testing site in Des Moines, a three-hour drive Riggens did not want to make while she was feeling ill.

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From a friend Riggens heard that Eagle View Community Health System in Oquawka, Illinois, had a testing site where “anyone could drive up to get tested.” She called the office April 27 to describe her symptoms and the next morning was on a tele-health call to go over the details. Later that morning, on April 28, Riggens made the 16-mile drive across the Mississippi River to Oquawka and was tested at the drive-up site established at a produce stand across the street from Eagle View.

Three days later, she received a call from Eagle View saying she tested positive for COVID-19.

“They were very great to work with,” Riggens said.

Eagle View has kept people informed of its testing capacity through posts on Facebook, sharing a flyer early in April that said daily curb-side testing for COVID-19, influenza, strep throat, mono and RVS — depending on an individual’s symptoms — would begin April 13.

“Everyone is welcome! Drive up with no appointment needed now open! Covid-19 testing is open to all who qualify,” an April 24 Facebook post states.

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“We prioritize the sickest people, people with symptoms, but at this point, our testing supplies are enough that we are trying to test anybody essentially who wants to be tested,” said Dr. Jennifer Reed, in a recent interview with WQAD.

Oquawka, Illinois, has a population of 1,500 compared to Burlington’s 25,000.

Compared to Iowa, Illinois has tested a greater percentage of its population, though both states have tested less than 1% of residents. According to data from the states’ health departments, Iowa has tested 60,569 of its roughly 3.2 million residents and Illinois has tested 333,147 of its 12.7 million residents.

Even with the more accessible testing in Oquawka, Illinois reports just four confirmed cases in Henderson County, where the town is located.

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According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, “Anyone with COVID-19-like illness or symptoms can get a test, even without a doctor’s order.” Testing guidance issued by the health department says: “As testing capacity expands, testing is now available for people who: Have COVID-19 symptoms (cough, shortness of breath and fever) AND have a risk factor such as contact with someone confirmed to have COVID-19, a comprised immune system or a serious medical condition.”

The guidance also prioritizes testing people “with or without symptoms” who work in a health care facility, correctional facility, first responders, grocery stores, pharmacies, restaurants, gas stations, public utilities, factories, child care and sanitation.

Since Riggens tested positive for COVID-19, a couple friends she had contact with, and her husband, all have gone to Oquawka for testing.

Even though she was tested in Illinois, Eagle View contacted the Des Moines County Health Department so she was counted in Iowa’s tally.

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Des Moines County is one of 22 counties slated to partially reopen certain businesses on May 15. Iowa’s other 77 counties began reopening Friday.

“When (Gov. Kim) Reynolds made the announcement [April 27], a friend of mine on Facebook said, ‘Only opening some parts of the state and leaving others closed is like having a peeing section in the swimming pool,'” Riggens recalled. “You can’t stop people. Borders are lines on a map. If you open an adjacent county, people from our county are still going to go there and vice-versa.”

Since testing positive, Riggens and her family have stayed home. Her husband is off work for now and she has ceased making face masks. (Since mid-March she has made 2,750 masks out of her home.)

“I understand how much it sucks being stuck at home and not being able to work,” said Riggens, a small business owner in photography. “But just because it was minor for me doesn’t mean it will be for someone else. There have been perfectly healthy people that have gotten terribly, terribly sick from this. The fact that I am high-risk and that’s as bad as it was, I feel extremely fortunate.”


By Elizabeth Meyer
Posted 5/5/20

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.

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