As Iowa begins to open up, Clay County and surrounding counties are seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases.
The Iowa Department of Public Health reported 59 confirmed cases in Clay County as of Friday evening. That’s an increase of 17 cases in a week.
At a press conference Thursday, Spencer Mayor Kevin Robinson said the community’s COVID-19 task force, which meets daily and includes city, county and public health officials, expected the early June peak in cases.
“We had prepared for that,” Robinson said. “We had made decisions regarding that. We have not yet seen our peak. In fact, regionally, and specifically within a 60-mile radius of us, we’re now really starting to actually see the ramp up. And Dickinson County was just named as one of the hot spots in the country, as far as the increased number of positive cases that are coming online.”
Dickinson County now has 119 cases and O’Brien County has 64 cases. Buena Vista County has seen a major outbreak and has 1,475 cases and six deaths.
Robinson said he’s keeping an eye on neighboring counties within a 60-mile radius. He shared statistics for several area counties, including Buena Vista, Dickinson, O’Brien and more, during his press conference.
“I bring those counties up because of the relevance of our commuter patterns in and out,” Robinson said. “About 40% of the workforce in Spencer commutes in and out, as well as our social traveling between Lost Island, Okoboji, as well as family units. We typically travel about a 60-mile radius to get our social needs met.”
Robinson said that from his perspective one of the major impacts to come could be on businesses in Spencer and Clay County.
“We have many, many small businesses of three to 10 employees and if three, four, five of those employees either start going out because they have COVID or because they’ve been exposed to people who have COVID and they have to isolate for 14 days, we’re going to see an economic impact that’s different than being not open for business,” Robinson said. “It’s going to be a scramble in order to try to stay open and service the needs of the workers, as well as the patrons.”
Gov. Reynolds’s proclamation lifts restrictions, allows pools to open
Robinson discussed the most recent proclamation from Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds that further lifted restrictions on certain businesses, including restaurants, bars and fitness centers. Those establishments no longer have to limit customers to 50% capacity. Social distancing rules, including keeping groups six feet apart, still apply.
Reynolds also allowed for pools to reopen.
“In Spencer, we’re still having discussions about what that means for us,” Robinson said. “Even though the governor has opened up the ability to operate a pool from a municipal standpoint, we have not yet made the decision to open the pool. There’s several variables that go into that decision.”
He added that the city is expected to make a decision on opening the Spencer Aquatic Center by next week.
Clay County residents urged to continue social distancing
Clay County Board of Supervisors Chair Dan Skelton joined Robinson during the press conference Thursday.
Skelton, who also is part of the Clay County COVID-19 task force, thanked residents for following social distancing best practices throughout the last three months.
“It’s hard to believe that we’re three months into this and it has been challenging from the very start,” Skelton said.
He said Clay County has been able to keep numbers down because its residents have followed the proper guidelines. The county opened up its offices to the public this week.
“We have kept the numbers down to this point in Clay County and that’s because the public has responded to our request to take those measures,” Skelton said. “We did flatten the curve.”
However, Skelton noted that the community’s actions in the coming weeks will determine how much COVID-19 spreads.
“Two weeks ago, Memorial Day weekend, we started to lift some of the activities,” Skelton said. “In Clay County, we had 10 positives. Today, two weeks later, we have 40. We’ve quadrupled the number in two weeks and what’s going to happen in another two weeks or four weeks, I don’t know, none of us know, but we feel that we can slow that peak, if you will, by maintaining those (social distancing) activities.”
Skelton urged residents to continue to wear face masks in public, limit activity spent around others outside, use good hygiene, disinfect surfaces and practice social distancing.
Clay County Fair still on for now
Skelton also provided on update on the Clay County Fair.
The event, scheduled for September 12-20, is still on for now.
“Clay County Fair is still planning to have a fair in September,” Skelton said, adding that a final decision is expected in July and that the fair board meets on a regular basis to discuss the situation.
The Minnesota and Iowa state fairs have canceled this year’s events.
Hospitalization rates lower than early projections
Robinson noted that hospitalization rates in the area, specifically in Clay and Dickinson counties, have been lower than earlier possible projections indicated.
“What that means is we don’t know really what the impact is when somebody gets it,” Robinson said.
Robinson said he knows people who have tested but are asymptomatic carriers, meaning they don’t show the symptoms associated with COVID-19. He said he also knows others “who have been knocked back” for a couple days as though they have the flu.
Robinson urged the community to continue using proper social distancing behaviors when resuming closer-to-normal levels of activity.
“As we increase our activity, we also need to be good about the behaviors that we display during our activity,” he said. “These activities are familiar. We do them every year and we have a tendency to jump right in and do them like we used to do them. As we gather with picnics and backyard barbecues and things of that nature, just remember that COVID-19 is still here. It is still impacting people.”
Skelton urges care for neighbors
Skelton said there has been a rise in suicides and asked the public to watch out for each other.
“We are seeing region-wide an increase in suicides, some of which may or may not be related to COVID or being cooped up for three months,” he said. “Whether it’s mental stress or suicide, be aware of your neighbors, what their needs are. Give a shoutout, give a call to somebody you might think under stress and see if just a few friendly words can help.
“I would say the same thing would apply if you have elderly neighbors who may be afraid to go to the grocery store. Offer to go pick up some stuff for them. Help out in the community. It’ll not only help those individuals out, but it’ll make you feel better, too.”
COVID-19 “still here”
While COVID-19 continues to be evident in the community, both Robinson and Skelton asked residents to stay the course and prevent spread.
“As it relates to social responsibility, the main message I think that the Clay County COVID task force would like to relay today is it’s still here, it’s still in our community,” Robinson said. “Please be prudent in social distancing. Please be prudent, as Dan mentioned, in wearing your face masks when you’re not able to social distance.”
Skelton said people can be active, but must be responsible, too.
“I know it’s tough,” Skelton said. “It’s summer time. We’re tired of being cooped up for three months. We want to get out and do things. We want to be more active. We want to go to retail spaces and do things – and you can do that. But we ask that you do it in a responsible manner, in which you have been doing it.”
Feature image: Spencer Mayor Kevin Robinson talks during a Facebook live broadcast on June 11 about COVID-19 in the community. (Photo source: Facebook.)