MAYOR PORSCH ON COPING WITH COVID-19: NOT AN ORDER, BUT KEEP YOUR DISTANCE

No cases yet as residents shelter

BY TOM CULLEN

Not a single case of the novel coronavirus has registered in Buena Vista County or its neighbors since Gov. Kim Reynolds announced last week the disease has reached community-spread status. 

Of the more than 100 cases that have been reported statewide, the closest the disease has reached into Northwest Iowa is Woodbury, Sioux and Kossuth counties as of Tuesday.

Public Health Director Pam Bogue told The Storm Lake Times she’s surprised there haven’t been any positive tests in BV County. Testing from reference labs and the State Hygienic Lab has been ongoing for a week and a half, yet all tests in BV County — she declined to say how many — have turned up negative.

In the coming weeks, there are bound to be positive tests, she said. Projections from leading public health institutions estimate, even conservatively, 20% to 40% of the population will exhibit symptoms. The disease is spread by droplet, the same way the cold or seasonal flu is transmitted.

“In other words, it’s highly contagious,” Bogue said.

And around 8% of the infected population will need hospitalization, said Susan Zulk, communications director for Spencer Memorial Hospital.

Hence, the need to shut non-essential society down.

Traffic at retailers has plummeted. All public buildings are closed; meetings are held electronically.

The city’s restaurants, bars and gyms have closed or moved to limited forms of business that comply with orders from the governor’s office.

The few places that are open include the grocery stores, liquor stores and the parks, which are subject to change, says Mayor Mike Porsch. He said any new regulations that slow the virus’ spread will be considered, save for a shelter-in-place order, the most drastic of measures. The Buena Vista County Board of Supervisors hasn’t rendered an opinion on shelter-in-place; the board’s expected to discuss its response to the virus in its meeting on Tuesday.

“I don’t think in this circumstance you can rule anything out,” Porsch said. “Shelter-in-place, I’m not sure, though. I think this community’s really stepped up to the recommendations from state and federal authorities.”

Porsch says the Storm Lake Police Department hasn’t seen gatherings of over 10 since he ordered a proclamation that banned gatherings of over 50 on public property. Effectively, the city’s shut down, he said. Sequestering people to their homes, like Chicago, San Francisco and a host of other states have, accomplishes little for Storm Lake, other than inciting panic, he said. 

“There’s a lot of problems with shelter-in-place,” Porsch said. “The main one I’m concerned with is that you’re imposing new stresses on people, and that makes them greater consumers of social services, the police department, hospitals, etc. People in this community have already stepped up in a big way.”

Porsch noted the impact the business community’s shouldered in light of Gov. Kim Reynolds closing virtually every non-essential business across the state.

Lakeside resident Ben Rumbo, owner of Energym in Storm Lake, told The Times the governor’s order last Tuesday shut down his entire business portfolio, which includes kickboxing classes, personal training and a 24/7 gym on Erie Street. He said he’s considering moving some of his personal training online in the meantime, but as for the main segments of his business, he said he plans to “wait it out.”

Lake Avenue, Porsch said, is a shell of itself.

“Let’s remember those who are sacrificing to make this community safe,” he said. “These were businesses who donated to Storm Lake Trivia Night, the St. Mary’s Ball. Let’s give back to our businesses who have done so much for us.”

AN ESTIMATE to the economic impact still isn’t known. Iowa Workforce Development hasn’t tabulated the amount of unemployment claims since stores started closing last week, but its receptionists are receiving thousands of queries per hour.

Tom Lane, a member of the Alta City Council and board member of TeamCAN, told The Times the Teamsters are already organizing its networks of mobile home parks against mass evictions. Lane says no one in Westview Mobile Home Park, where he and his wife Tarla have resided for more than 40 years, has yet conveyed a concern of evictions because all of them work at manufacturers or grocery stores.

The state has suspended some evictions, per an order Reynolds issued on Friday that also eliminated penalties on late property tax payments, but TeamCAN says the order doesn’t eliminate them entirely. He says Teamsters Local 238 Secretary Jesse Case has been working feverishly to develop a stance his mobile home park network should take in the event of mass unemployment.

“Everyone’s working in the trailer court,” Lane said. “But say some aren’t, we want a policy from the state, from ownership that guarantees you can stay in your home.”

Iowa State University Economist Dave Swenson told The Times he’s anticipating a positive first quarter and a negative second quarter for overall GDP, but he said there isn’t enough data to make a projection. 

“What this looks like is a severe impact over two months, the extent of which is unclear,” he said. 

The state’s manufacturers are still operating. Crops will still be planted. Main Street has shut its doors for the moment, but they’ll reopen at some point, he said.

The threat he says that looms is the danger to the state’s health system. Iowa’s total inpatient capacity, between its acute care hospitals and its critical access hospitals, is 11,500. Most hospitals in rural areas, which usually don’t have more than 25 beds, can’t handle an influx of 50 to 100 patients at a time, he said.

“The threat this virus poses is a collapse of the state’s healthcare system, which has already shrunk significantly since the 1970s,” Swenson said. “Hence, the need to flatten the curve.”

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