Local health officials say county's not yet over the COVID-hump

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

School districts stay the course on mitigation efforts

The number of people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in Dickinson County increased by more then 250 in a week's time. The latest weekly statistics from local health officials showed 2,803 people had completed their vaccination as of Friday, and more than 6,900 doses of vaccine have been administered by the local public health office so far. However, active cases of the respiratory virus haven't moved much locally, according to the report.

Friday's numbers showed cases dropped by three last week — but deaths related to COVID-19 increased by two the same week. So far, an estimated 2,368 of Dickinson County's 2,544 cases have recovered, and the county's rolling, two-week positive test rate has seen a drop of a few percentage points after reaching 16 percent near the beginning of the month. It's the county's highest rate since the Jan. 15 report, and one of the highest in the state, but still about 6 percent below Dickinson County's peak in mid-November. Lakes Regional Healthcare released a statement Friday, saying hospitalizations related to COVID-19 increased as the month rolled in and seemed to show a change in the local viral activity.

"LRH had a spike in COVID hospitalizations in mid-December, and the vast majority at that time were over age 60," the hospital said. "In the past two weeks, the majority of their COVID inpatients have been aged 30 to 60."

LRH's Chief Nursing Officer Chris Ingraham said the county's first recorded case of a more contagious variant — often called the UK variant — was identified in Dickinson County in early March, and Dickinson County Public Health Director Katy Burke confirmed earlier this month at least one more was confirmed. Ingraham noted the public may have developed a false sense of security in light of the availability of vaccines — the Iowa Department of Public Health has previously said current vaccines are effective against the UK variant.

“Between Jan. 28 and March 15, we had only one COVID inpatient,” Ingraham said Friday. “It may have given many people the impression that we were over the hump and nearing the end of COVID. Although it appears we have many people in the county wearing masks, social distancing and getting the vaccine, perhaps these mitigation efforts have waned a bit. Now we’ve recently experienced an increase in COVID hospitalizations again – reaching up to six COVID inpatients at one time this past week.”

Schools plan to stay the course

Some of the local school districts have seen a dip in confirmed cases and related quarantines after several weeks of increasing numbers. But while last week's numbers showed a downturn for both Spirit Lake and Okoboji Schools, the Harris-Lake Park School District — one of the county's smallest — reported some upticks. H-LP had remained at zero cases since mid-March, but showed a small increase last week with two positive cases. The district reported eight students were quarantined or temporarily learning online as of April 7, but that number has since changed to 12 students. H-LP Superintendent Andy Irwin said the district plans to continue it's mitigation practices, and he said the district is confident in the measures it has in place.

Dickinson County's positivity rate briefly broke the threshold to allow two weeks of online learning at the local schools, but Irwin said H-LP doesn't expect to take advantage of the option at this point, saying much of the recorded viral activity and exposure is occurring outside of the school.

"Our goal is to keep as many students in our school as possible," Irwin said. "We want to continue to provide in person learning to all our students for the remainder of the school year. We want our students to participate in all the traditional spring activities such as track, soccer, golf, academic awards night, prom, graduation, etc. The community can help us with this goal."

Spirit Lake Schools reached its highest rate of both positive cases and quarantines the week of April 2 — 17 and 50 respectively — but both numbers began to drop the following week. The district reported 12 positive cases among its students in its latest update, and 22 students were on quarantine — the district said none of its staff were positive or in quarantine. Like H-LP, Spirit Lake officials said a majority of the transmission is happening outside the school day — typically social or household contacts. The district doesn't plan to change its mitigation strategies at this point and cited an average absentee rate of 1.67 percent since November.

"Face to face learning has been desired and essential, from an educational and emotional standpoint, for our students and families," the district said in a statement to the DCN.

The district went on to say it will continue to focus on the factors it can control within the school system, while trusting members of the public are making decisions in the best interest of their households and the community.

"This has been one heck of a year," the district said. "Amidst this crazy pandemic, we sincerely appreciate the efforts, energy and attitude related to school. Students, staff and parents have been phenomenal to work with, given all the challenges. Many struggled with whether face to face school was the right decision back in August. However, looking back, it has been amazing to have face to face school and activities all year, with very little interruption to the learning environment. We are proud of everyone involved."

Okoboji Schools, which reports its statistics in ranges of five to protect potential privacy rights, said there were 1-5 positive cases of COVID-19 in the district as of Friday — down from 10-15 the previous week, which matched the district's highest recorded range. Quarantines dropped by a range of five last week, showing 25-30 on Friday's report — still well short of the district's November peak at 75-80 quarantines.

Request for comment from Okoboji Schools was not returned before press time.

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