COVID-19 positivity rate holding above 10% in the region

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Mayor, Spencer Hospital offer updates, school district outlines new changes

COVID-19 continues its presence in Clay County as the Iowa Department of Public Health has recorded the highest 14-day rolling total for individuals testing positive in the county reaching 104 on Saturday and sitting at 103 by Monday. The amount of total positive cases in the county since March is 438, with

Dr. David Keith, medical director for the Clay County Board of Health, said while the county’s 14-day positivity rate remains at more than 10%, it’s more important than ever to understand the importance of the mitigation steps needed to protect one another.

“Our community can continue their school and work routines safely if we appropriately wear masks, are cautious about social distancing and routinely perform hand and surface hygiene,” Keith said. “Of the tests the hospital and our office are performing, we are finding a positivity rate over 10%. A higher positivity rate indicates that the virus is more prevalent locally than it was previously, which means someone’s risk of becoming infected without knowing it is also greater than it has been previously. We need to understand that we, as a community, have the power to slow and stop the spread of COVID-19. It is a preventable disease.”

In a press conference Friday morning, Spencer Mayor Kevin Robinson said the Clay County COVID task force continues to meet regularly and said recent community spread has been general in nature.

“Earlier when the students went back to college we saw spikes in specific areas: Iowa City, Ames, Des Moines area where the larger universities are, we saw a significant uptick in young people who tested positive partly because more tests were being done but also the gathering and mixing that was happening from a social perspective at these places,” Robinson said. “In Spencer and Clay County specifically we’re not seeing an isolated age demographic that we can pinpoint ‘here’s where the increase is coming from’ or ‘here are the behaviors where spread is coming from,’ we see it across all different demographics. The genders are about equal.

He added, “What that means is we have general community spread with the virus, it’s important that we attack the spread as a community and not just try to isolate it into one specific sector. We appreciate everyone’s patience trying to keep the community safe, we’re all a bit jaded we thought this thing would be over in 90 days. We’re still long into the journey and we’ll continue that journey through winter.”

In an email, Spencer Schools Superintendent Terry Hemann outlined the district’s new masking policy, which read “Effective Monday, Oct. 12, students, staff, and all people entering Spencer Community Schools are required to wear a face mask while at school, school events, or on school grounds.” The email stated that gaiters and face shields will no longer be considered an acceptable face covering per IDPH guidance which stated they are not as effective as wearing a mask properly and will not keep someone from being exposed and required to quarantine for 14 days.

Mask wearing

The Spencer mayor compared mask wearing to seat belts during his press conference Friday, and the subject of mask wearing has been a recurring topic during Clay County Board of Supervisors meetings.

“Everyone wants to get to normal as fast as possible,” Robinson said. “We can still do normal activities if we take the proper protocols to protect ourselves. I’ve been asked ‘why should I wear a mask?’ Masking is obviously one of the first steps you can take to try and prevent the spread of COVID, I liken it to when I put the seatbelt on in the car. I haven’t been in a car accident in over 20 years but I put my seatbelt on every day and I do that to try to protect myself everyday and others that I would be riding with too if we do have serious situation we have the best chances possible to get out of that situation in a positive light. I believe it’s the same way with COVID.

He continued, “We’ve seen a peak, I would say two months ago, in mask wearing and awareness and you know distancing, social distance past 6 feet. In the last month or so we’ve seen a backing off of that so you know we’ve seen some businesses that have mandated masks they’re not anymore, I think in the general public a lot of times it’s 50/50 at best we see masks being worn, masking is important, it’s one aspect we can do in our daily lives to help prevent the spread of COVID. Pay attention in the next month, maybe two months Dr. Keith on our call yesterday had mentioned that it’s six to 12 months before a vaccine is available, once a vaccine hits it’s a game changer and we can be protected, especially coming into winter we want to slow the community spread of COVID.”

“I watch a lot of information and read a lot of information both from the CDC and other sources,” Supervisor Burlin Matthews said during Tuesday’s board of supervisors meeting. “What I know is you may not be showing symptoms but you may be a carrier, you may never show symptoms. The other thing is we talk about 6-foot distances but we also know it travels further than 6 feet especially once it gets into an aerosol. I literally don’t go anyplace without a mask. … I hate to wear this thing, it’s not the most comfortable thing to put on, I have to to take my glasses off in order to see something but I know that as I listen to lots of information, that it’s the only thing we can do to stop the increase until we come up with a vaccine, that’s going to be effective.”

The subject of masks also remain a subject of interest locally, both Clay County and city of Spencer officials having fielded questions from the public about a mask mandate over the past months, noting neither have the power to implement such a mandate at this time in part due to the governor’s emergency proclamation. Robinson shared a personal experience during the last Spencer City Council meeting which led him to encourage the public to use civility when addressing the topic of mask wearing.

“My family had a situation up at the nutty bar stand the last day it was open, I had already got my nutty bar and left, I was outside the restaurant but my son and wife were still in,” Robinson said. “My wife is a breast cancer survivor and she has multiple sclerosis, we wear the masks based on the CDC recommendation to try to take every precaution necessary to put us in the best position possible. There was another man in there not wearing a mask and proceeded to just kind of bully and berate my wife for wearing a mask, this whole political conversation about masks, and I would just encourage the public if they wear masks, if they don’t wear masks, that’s their personal choice and we can still all treat each other the same as we all used to whether we have a mask on or not.”

Spencer Hospital

Spencer Hospital President Bill Bumgarner said area health care officials are working extremely hard as demand for health care services increases. Between April 15 and Aug. 31, Spencer Hospital treated a total of 10 inpatients with COVID-19 infections. From Sept. 1 through Oct. 12, Spencer Hospital has admitted and treated 12 patients infected with COVID-19.

“Like other hospitals in the northwest Iowa over the past two weeks, we have approached maximum inpatient capacity due to increased service demand and healthcare worker availability,” Bumgarner said. “This is not related to just an increase in COVID patients. A significant factor has been employees needing to be home to care for children who have been required to quarantine due to exposures to COVID-positive individuals.”

He added, “There are many hospital employees working extremely hard to meet the needs of our patients by extending their worked hours and picking up extra shifts. We don’t talk about that much publicly because caring for those in need is what we do. Yet, I’m very proud of the Spencer Hospital team for meeting the challenges presented by COVID-19 again and again over the past seven months.”

DeeAnn Vaage, infectious disease specialist at Spencer Hospital, explained there are several specific treatment methods that have been effective for COVID-19 patients being cared for at the hospital.

“All patients who qualify and consent to treatment receive Remdesivir, which is an anti-viral medication; Dexamethasone, a steroid to help reduce inflammation; and convalescent plasma, plasma which contains antibodies as it has been donated by people previously infected by COVID-19,” Vaage said. “Recently, we’ve seen patients who have increased respiratory difficulty. For those patients, we treat with high-flow oxygen in our intensive care unit. The combination of proning — lying patients on their stomach with their faces down — in combination with high-flow nasal cannula (tube), has been shown to be especially helpful in patients who have low blood oxygen levels due to a serious coronavirus infection. This therapy is helping patients recover without being placed on a ventilator.

Spencer Hospital officials encouraged anyone who has COVID-19 symptoms including cough, fever, loss of taste or smell senses, or difficulty breathing to contact their family practitioner, who can order a COVID-19 test for patients with symptoms. Spencer Hospital also tests patients who have a physician’s order, either because the patient is symptomatic or if the patient is scheduled for an aerosol-generating procedure. Those having difficulty breathing should seek care in the emergency department.

Those who do not have COVID-19 symptoms, but wish to be tested can visit a Test Iowa site, which provide testing free at locations that currently include a site in Storm Lake and a Test Iowa clinic in Spirit Lake. For more information about COVID-19 in Iowa and resources available, visit

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  • Wear masks, people.

    -- Posted by MethodMan on Tue, Oct 13, 2020, at 10:35 AM
  • If my President doesn't wear a mask, why should I?

    -- Posted by Cookster on Tue, Oct 13, 2020, at 5:38 PM
  • Because you're smarter than the president and believe in science and the medical experts?

    Because you're a caring person don't want to infect other people?

    Because if everyone wore masks we can have a functioning economy, kids in school, entertainment?

    There are many many more reasons.

    -- Posted by helped_myself on Thu, Oct 15, 2020, at 1:30 AM
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