Health officials saw dip in local COVID stats ahead of current climb

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Local health officials had some good news for Dickinson County residents on Friday, but the message was paired with some words of caution. Zach Borus, a physician at Lakes Regional Healthcare and chairman of the Dickinson County Board of Health, said hospitalizations related to COVID-19 were down at then end of last week. He said the hospital has about 25 beds and saw an average of about 10 COVID-positive patients last month but, as of a Friday update, that number had dropped to about three.

"That follows a few weeks where the overall number of positive tests locally and across the region have dropped," Borus said. "That said, those numbers are starting to go back up. Our positivity rate was down to about 12 percent over a two-week span around Christmas. Now we're back up to (about) 17 percent over the last one and two weeks, and it's rising again. I think after people were more vigilant around Thanksgiving than they would have been, some people may have got together for Christmas etc. So we're worried that that will continue to rise as people got together and potentially gave each other COVID."

Dickinson County's rolling, two-week rate of positive tests had been on a consistent downward trend peaking at 22 percent on Nov. 22 and falling to 9.8 percent by Dec. 28 but Friday's rate rose to 16.5 percent. Active cases of COVID-19 in Dickinson County also jumped to 104 as of Friday's report, up 44 from the Dec. 28 numbers. The county has recorded about 1,777 positive cases of COVID-19 since March. About 1,650 of those have recovered, but at least 23 local residents have died because of the virus.

Borus went on to say local health providers feel prepared for a potential spike in hospitalizations over the coming weeks.

Lakes Regional Healthcare on Dec. 22 received its first shipment of a COVID-19 vaccine developed by pharmaceutical company Moderna. Dickinson County Public Health Director Katy Burke said LRH has received a total of 50 vials in two shipments enough for about 501 vaccinations. Those first doses went to hospital staff, dentists, pharmacists, emergency medical technicians and other groups the Iowa Department of Public Health has labeled as group 1A. There are about 900 individuals who fall into that category in Dickinson County, according to Burke. Borus said he himself was vaccinated Dec. 22 and only experienced a mild reaction a sore arm and a possibly unrelated headache.

"You cannot get coronavirus from it, you do not generally get severely ill, and it is a safe vaccine," Borus said. "It's also very effective."

Burke said her office is informed by the state each week as to whether more shipments of the vaccine are headed to Spirit Lake, and vaccination clinics are scheduled accordingly vaccinations at long-term care facilities are conducted through state partnerships with pharmacies. Burke said the state public health office will inform other priority groups when they become eligible for the vaccine. The announcements will likely be made through various channels, including print, broadcast and social media, she said, but the general public shouldn't expect to be vaccinated until after the three priority groups. Borus estimated that may happen around late spring or early summer, and local health officials plan to use an online survey to help tailor their plan for distribution to broader populations.

"It's going to be a while until everybody is vaccinated," Borus said. "So we continue to urge you to please wear masks, especially when you're inside and especially when you're around people avoid large gatherings, cover your cough, wash your hands all the stuff we've been saying for the last 10 months. It still applies. Still be vigilant. We're all sick of this and want it to be over. Thankfully, hope is on the horizon."

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