About 90 members of Dallas County’s public safety agencies — police departments, sheriff’s office, fire departments, first responders and EMS — gathered at the Dallas County Human Services campus Thursday night for a briefing on COVID-19, the novel coronavirus pandemic, hosted by the Dallas County Public Health Department and the Dallas County Emergency Management Agency.
Dallas County Public Health Director Suzanne Hegarty, Dallas County Public Health Nurse Rhonda Shoafstall and Dallas County Emergency Management Coordinator A. J. Seely hosted the 90-minute briefing. They said they have been working closely for weeks with the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Hegarty said there is no “community spread” of the COVID-19 virus anywhere in Iowa at this time. All 14 confirmed cases of the disease in Iowa are connected to passengers on a cruise ship tour of Egypt. The phrase “community spread” means the spreading of an illness for which the source of infection is unknown.
Hegarty said the public health department has plans in place for three possible phases of the pandemic. Phase one is preparedness, in which efforts aim to limit the scope of the virus. She said Dallas County is currently in phase one. Phase two would involve the management of a localized outbreak, and phase three would bring a response to community spread.
The differences between voluntary and mandatory quarantine, voluntary and mandatory isolation and self-quarantine were also explained, with volunteers from the audience helping to illustrate the relations.
Seely outlined several “operational objectives” of the coordinated emergency response to the pandemic. These goals include:
- protection of the public and of emergency responders
- management of resources, such as personal protective equipment
- “droplet precautions”
- gathering and disseminating information to the public
- supporting the continuity of county operations and continuity of county government in the case of a virulent outbreak
- development of an action plan
Shoafstall discussed the practicalities of personal protective equipment: face masks, goggles, gloves and gowns. She said the N95 filtering face piece respirator is the go-to gear to avoid contamination by the bodily fluids of a victim.
The emergency responders in the audience asked a number of technical questions about protocols and procedures, sparking a lively discussion. The Dallas County Public Health Department has created a web page filled with resources related to COVID-19, the novel coronavirus.
Other public-sector precautions and preparations were also on foot across Iowa Thursday. The IDPH issued guidance Thursday to PK-12 school administrators on COVID-19 policies as the Des Moines Public Schools announced the suspension of classes from March 13 to March 30, and the Iowa City Community School District weighed a similar move.
In the Perry Community School District, spring break begins Friday, March 13, and classes are scheduled to resume Monday, March 23. PCSD Superintendent Clark Wicks said the district will monitor the state of the coronavirus in Iowa over the course of break and will make decisions during the week-long recess about possible district actions in response.
In other states, all public schools in Maryland and Ohio will close for two weeks beginning March 16, those states’ governors announced Thursday. Kentucky appears to be poised to follow suit.
The University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa announced Wednesday the cancellation of all in-person classes between March 23 and April 3. Drake University will also suspend face-to-face classes during the same period. The Des Moines Area Community College also announced schedule changes Wednesday.
“The health and safety of our students, teachers and faculty is a top priority,” Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said in a statement Thursday. “At this time, the Iowa Department of Public Health is not advising any school closures. We are finalizing key decision points needed to mitigate COVID-19 to provide school districts with thorough guidance.”