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Henry County nears 2,000 COVID cases, says official Three long-term care facilities dealing with virus outbreaks

MT. PLEASANT — Henry County, which is now nearing 2,000 coronavirus cases, currently has three outbreaks in long-term care facilities.

At a Board of Health meeting on Thursday afternoon, Henry County Public Health Director Shelley Van Dorin reported a facility in New London has 23 positive cases, Arbor Court has 42 cases, most of which are in recovery, and Park Place has four cases. The county as a whole has had 1,932 coronavirus cases.

“The big thing with New London is a lot of their staff is also positive so that causes a lot of issues with staffing,” Van Dorin said.

The public health director noted the curve for hospitalizations has begun to dip but public health officials remain worried about the effects of the Thanksgiving holiday. In Region 5, there are currently 223 hospitalizations, 62 patients in the ICU and 31 patients on ventilators.

“We’re really not going to know for at least another week what kind of effects [Thanksgiving] had,” she said.

The public health director said the department is also beginning to see re-infections.

“They say you’re only immune for 90 days,” she said.

Van Dorin added the number of deaths reported for the county on the state’s coronavirus website has yet to be updated. Currently, the site says the county has had seven deaths. By Van Dorin’s calculations, that number is closer to 25.

“It’s lots and lots of high numbers,” she said during her update.

In the month of November, the department completed 691 disease investigations related to COVID-19, and financial reports show it dedicated 75 percent of its budget this year to disease outbreak.

As the potential for an available vaccine increases, Van Dorin and her staff continue preparations for distribution. The public health director said the state would be in charge of vaccinating correctional facilities. Pharmacies throughout the state have partnered with long-term care facilities to help administer vaccines. All other priority groups, including health care workers, would be vaccinated through local public health or the department will distribute it to health care facilities that have the capacity to store the vaccine.

Questions on whether extra or leftover vaccines from the first round available to priority groups would go to high-risk individuals remain unanswered by the state Department of Public Health.

Van Dorin said the two potentially available vaccines include the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. The Pfizer vaccine would require an ultra cold freezer, which Henry County Public Health does not have. The Moderna vaccine would only require a regular vaccine fridge.

The public health director said there is a possibility the department could receive some of the Pfizer vaccine through the University of Iowa, which is expected to receive the Pfizer vaccine a week before the Moderna vaccine. Without an ultra cold freezer, the department would have to administer the vaccine within a six-day period. Both vaccines are multi-dose and would require booster shots at 21 or 28 days. Both vaccines could become available as early as mid-December, Van Dorin reported.

In addition to the update on the vaccines, Van Dorin reported the department had received several grants to assist with covering increased costs during the pandemic.

It received $6,000 more from an immunization grant, $18,793 from the state for its COVID response and $20,000 from Southeast Iowa Link for its response to the pandemic related to advertising to keep the public updated. These funds come in addition to CARES Act money the department received from the federal government.

With the extra funding, Van Dorin asked the board to approve extending contracts by two months for the two part-time workers the department hired in August, which was unanimously approved by the board.

“There’s no way we could have stayed afloat without them,” Van Dorin said.

The public health director added the department dealt with its own wave of the virus, which saw staff out of the office for sometimes up to four weeks at a time. In mid-November, the department reported it had gotten behind on contact tracing calls due to the volume of cases.

“They were a blessing. We’re completely caught up on contact tracing, there are no pending cases. All of the old cases are taken care of, and we’re working on the new cases,” she said.