A dangerous time in Iowa

Tanya Keith is an activist and small business owner in Des Moines, and author of the recently published Soccer Stars on the Pitch. -promoted by Laura Belin

On Sunday, my son coughed as he was unloading the clean dishes. Thus began my adventure of losing faith in Iowa’s COVID-19 response.

I grabbed the forehead scanner and “beeped” him. Normal. But it gave me pause. With three kids, and kids not presenting with symptoms, I decided to beep all the foreheads in the house. I was normal, the teen was normal, but the preschooler scanned at 100.4 and my husband at 99.9. 

Holding out hope that testing standards had relaxed enough to include all symptomatic Iowans, I called the Urgent Care associated with our doctor’s office. They told me I would need to call the Iowa Department of Public Health’s hotline at 211. So I did.

There were four people ahead of me on the line. When I got on with the nurse, I shared the symptoms in my family. She told me we were not eligible for testing because we are not:

  • Over age 60 and high-risk
  • Living in a dense living arrangement (senior center or dorm)
  • Hospitalized people with breathing issues
  • Symptomatic and traveled to a foreign (today they added domestic) hotspot
  • First responders and medical personnel
  • She told me symptomatic people need to stay home for at least a week, but to not leave home until 72 hours after the end of symptoms. I told her I really wanted my family tested, and asked if they were collecting data on how many people have requested tests but been turned down. They aren’t.

    Then I asked what we should do with the other members of our family. She told us we do not need to stay home.

    Think about that. I’m the mom of a four-year-old with symptoms and the wife of a symptomatic husband. If they are sick, I’ve definitely been exposed. We know COVID-19 can spread before infected people show symptoms, and we know from foreign studies that tested everyone in a small town that some people never show symptoms. Yet when I specifically asked if I could go to Costco on a Sunday, the advice from the Iowa Department of Public Health was sure, go ahead.

    This is why we need to lock Iowa down today. I know that if I want to keep Iowa healthy, I need to stay home, and I am. I have friends who can deliver food. My work is solitary, and I can do it from home and abandoned houses I own. I don’t need to expose others to pay my bills. And as much as I love my work, I must admit it is not immediately essential.

    But what about those who are not so fortunate? What if I were a retail worker who would not get paid unless I went to work? Then I could go to work–with the blessing of the Iowa Department of Public Health–despite my likely exposure at home.

    People are returning from spring break trips, and they are not required to stay home. If we do not have a strong government action to require people to stay home, companies will be left to put profits before health and require workers to come in. Have the malls closed? Has Wells Fargo closed their enormous campus petri dish? Iowa needs clear leadership, and clear leadership means locking down now.

    Why now? The COVID ACT NOW data project, a partnership among data scientists, epidemiologists, and others projected “the point of no return” for each state: that is, by when must each state act to ensure their hospitals will not be overrun by COVID-19 patients. Their graph indicates that Iowa risks hospital overload if we don’t act by March 27 to April 1.

    We need to flood the governor’s office with requests to shut Iowa down. We are only delaying the inevitable, and that delay means more sick people and more people dying. You can reach her office via this link

    Not convinced yet? Think I’m the only person with potential untested exposure? I put out a request on my Facebook page, asking for Iowans’ personal stories about trying to get tested. The response was swift.

    I heard from a labor and delivery nurse, who is married to a medical provider. She was unable to get tested for rising temperature, headache, body aches, and sore throat. She should qualify for testing, but can’t get tested because she lives in a different county from where she works. She also knows the severe shortage of PPEs [personal protective equipment], so she doesn’t want to be a burden on a system that is already stressed.

    A person with Type 2 diabetes and asthma presented with a 101.2 fever, dry cough, chest tightness, and headache, with a history of out of state travel, but was told they couldn’t get tested without a fever over 103. It made me wonder how we could leave someone with multiple risk factors without scientific information about their health status.

    Another friend had a sore throat and fever that made her delirious. The 211 service told her she did not qualify for testing, but her doctor called in an antibiotic for her. So much for all the lectures that we shouldn’t take antibiotics unless absolutely needed.

    A delivery driver responded. Presenting with fever, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, he went to the doctor. They were more concerned about where he had traveled recently, never mind that delivery work puts them in front of who knows how many people. He continued to work with no test, but a steroid and antibiotic.

    When his boss requested that he get tested, he was bounced from his doctor, urgent care, the 211 line, but was unable to get tested without known contact with a person with a positive test. He stayed home to finish his meds, and his fever broke, but when he returned to work, his breathing was labored and he felt like someone was sitting on his chest. He returned to Urgent Care, but they wouldn’t allow him into the building. They tested him for influenza (negative). They recommended that he self quarantine until 72 hours free from cough. He told me he is continuing to work, because “I don’t have anything, and I don’t feel right taking off work.”

    When we combine the American drive to work for pride or survival with a pandemic, the result will be deadly. More people shared their stories with me than I have the energy to report. Please take this seriously. Again, that link to contact Governor Kim Reynolds is right here.

    Top image created by the Centers for Disease Control “ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses.”

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    • I'm convinced, and I contacted the Governor

      Thank you for this good post. As more states lock down, including Michigan just today, Iowa’s reasons for not doing so look increasingly strange. Since Iowa isn’t even testing all the Iowa residents who have symptoms, let alone the public at large, how can we accurately estimate the current rates of asymptomatic infection around the state?

      And what is this “data” that Reynolds is waiting for? How many confirmed cases would it take to trigger a lockdown? Five hundred? A thousand? The first dozen deaths? The first fifty? The virus isn’t going to wait for us to decide, that’s for sure.

    • Remember this after the epidemic

      When this is over, and we hear that it’s time for “unity” and bipartisan government, let’s all remember that we had to explain to Republicans that our mothers are not expendable. See https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2020/3/24/1930747/-Gov-Cuomo-responds-to-Republicans-My-mother-is-not-expendable-and-your-mother-is-not-expendable