When in Okoboji, do as the Okobojians do
Tuesday, May 12, 2020
It's a distinction we try to make as often as possible in the current COVID-climate, and it's also an important one — confirmed cases vs. recovered cases. Here in Dickinson County, all six of the confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been listed as recovered by the state as of May 6. That means, as the bustling summer season in the Iowa Great Lakes draws ever nearer, we're back to zero official cases here.
So, while a goose egg's worth of known, active cases is cause for some optimism — if not outright celebration — our community still has to be cautious.
The local numbers tempt us to throw wide the maw of the tourist-driven seasonal economy we rely on in the Lakes Area, but there are still two places the virus can come from — within and without. Firstly, Gov. Reynolds herself has told us time and time again we should assume the virus is in our communities at this point, and I doubt any health care provider worth their salt would disagree. There may still be local cases of the virus out there, and they may not be recorded since the unwitting host has a good chance of not even noticing they're infected. Secondly, the summer season draws people from all over the country to our little cluster of cities. Even now, there are a number of hotspots in cities not too far from the bordering edges of South Dakota and Minnesota. An influx of people could potentially bring an influx of the virus as well.
Of course, we want the tourists and seasonal residents. We want the restaurants busy, the beaches packed and the shops full. We want local livelihoods to survive this whole thing, but we also have to realize this virus hit humanity in a pretty tender spot. While its mortality rate isn't as high as say heart disease, COVID-19 is both easy to catch and can kill — that is to say, you can't catch a fatal case of heart disease because someone coughed on you.
And it kills some more than others. While young, healthy folk may have such mild symptoms they never even know they beat the virus — and may not end up as a reported case, I might add — the elderly population is at a greater risk. In fact, while it's the folks in the 18-40 range that most commonly catch the virus at 41 percent of Iowa's cases, only 2 percent of that demographic are dying of it statewide, according to current state numbers. The 41-60 crowd isn't that far behind with a 37 percent infection rate, and a 10 percent statewide death rate. Meanwhile, though the 65-plus demographic is making up only about 19 percent of the state's cases, they are totaling just under 90 percent of the state's COVID-related deaths. I'm not sure how many people in Dickinson County are housed in care facilities (and thank goodness those facilities are on lockdown), but I do know the U.S. Census Bureau said about 26 percent of our Dickinson County's population was 65-years-old or more in 2018 (and I wouldn't hold my breath hoping our average population's getting any younger when our annual growth rate has been about four people every month over the last decade or so). That means about one out of every four local people — or just under 4,500 — are at a higher risk of complications and possible death due to the virus.
So far, Dickinson County's done a pretty good job of keeping the virus at bay — six cases confirmed and no one died. And two-thirds of those cases were associated with an out-of-state facility. Now, I'm not a doctor (I don't even play one on TV), but I would venture a guess to say those cases were thwarted by following the recommendations of our local health officials. We've stayed six feet apart, we've stayed home as much as possible and we've been wearing masks when we can't do those things — wear them proudly folks.
The governor keeps preaching personal responsibility during this crisis, and I say successful group efforts like these are built on personal responsibility.
So, while we welcome all of our seasonal visitors, we ask that when in Okoboji, do as the Okobojians do. We're counting on you to wear a mask when you go to the store. We're counting on you to keep your gatherings to less than 10 people. And, unfortunately, we're asking one additional thing of you. About two months ago, local elected officials and civic leaders formally asked anyone returning to the area to keep themselves isolated for two weeks, just in case they are unknowingly carrying the virus. That's difficult. I know. But the more contact you have with people, the more avenues the virus has to spread in your favorite Midwestern destination.
So, we're counting on you.
We're counting on you to help us keep our active cases from crossing the starting line again. We're counting on you to make sure the nurse next door doesn't catch the virus through the grapevine. We're counting on you to help protect the people here who are at risk for no other reason than that they were born in the 1950s. But, more importantly, they are people. They are someone's father, someone's mother, a child's grandparent or even great grandparent. And they are worth it. They are worth more than a night on the town, they are worth more than a summer tradition and they are worth more than the inconvenience of wearing a mask to go grocery shopping.
The good thing is we can do both. We can have our summer and be mindful of the risks we are all living with these days. It may not be the type of summer we remember from our childhood or the type we were hoping for, but we can have it. Life doesn't operate on lake time. These are things we need to do today – and probably for a long while.
We know you love the lakes. This is your chance to show it.