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COVID cases in Washington County pass the 1,000 mark

This map shows positive COVID-19 numbers in Washington County as of Friday morning broken down by ZIP code. (Washington County Public Health)
This map shows positive COVID-19 numbers in Washington County as of Friday morning broken down by ZIP code. (Washington County Public Health)

Positive COVID-19 cases in Washington County passed the 1,000 mark on Friday.

On Friday morning, the Washington County Department of Public Health reported that there have been 1,031 positive tests in the county, up 76 from 915 on Tuesday.

“We’re going in the absolute wrong direction, and we’re going there quickly,” Washington County Public Health Director Danielle Pettit-Majewski said. “It’s everywhere. People have weddings; people have family events; people go out to bars; people got it at work; people got it at school.

“We’re trying to stop it from spreading to other people, but we’re being inundated.”

She said that the situation is getting worse, explaining that there is usually a two-to-three-week lag between positive tests and hospitalizations and deaths.

“When we were starting to get 3,000, 4,000, 5,000 cases a day (in the state,) that was maybe 10 days ago when we started to hit those numbers consistently,” Pettit-Majewski said. “Hospitalizations are surging.”

She said that there are two hospitals in the 14-county Region 5 that have ICU beds available, but staffing shortages are becoming an issue.

“If you look at the number of beds available on the coronavirus website, it’s like saying we have room at a hotel, but there’s not going to be anybody there to change the sheets,” Pettit-Majewski said. “Our finite resources of staff, they’re getting sick, they’re getting burned out, their family members are getting sick, and I don’t even think we’ve hit the impact of these high numbers of cases.”

She said that she is worried that things will get worse.

“With it getting colder and with the holidays coming up, frankly I’m getting very concerned,” she said. “This is what we were trying to avoid in March and April.

“Thinking about what you are going to do for the holidays can help save people’s lives. Deciding to not have your big family gathering could save lives.”

Pettit-Majewski said that the Iowa State Board of Health has recommended that the governor institute a statewide mask mandate, and that other county boards of health have asked boards of supervisors for mask mandates.

“We’ve not been given any indication that that would be a success there,” she said. “We could do that, and it might help. We already have those high number of cases, and we’re already going to feel that impact on our health care system.

“What we decide to do now will determine whether we stop putting gasoline on the fire.”

Washington County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jack Seward Jr. said Friday that the board would not institute a mask mandate.

“It’s unenforceable, and it’s unreasonable,” Seward said. “There’s no sense in spinning our wheels.

“We’re not like Iowa City, Cedar Rapids, Des Moines or Waterloo. We’re unique, and we look at our own situation.”

However, Seward said that the Board of Supervisors may soon consider closing the Washington County Courthouse again.

The courthouse was closed from March through most of July this year.

“One of our options would be to do what we did in March,” Seward said. “I suspect that’s something we’re going to talk about.

“We’ll keep an eye on the situation and keep discussing what’s going on.”

Pettit-Majewski emphasized that people need to be mindful of their safety as well as the safety of others.

“Wear a mask everywhere; stay home as much as you can; avoid large gatherings,” she said. “Have conversations with your families about what you are going to do for Thanksgiving.

“Going on as though everything is fine is not sustainable. Literally, our behavior is the only thing we have right now.”