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Long-term care outbreaks now at 114, $14M allocated to assist with testing and staffing

An additional 20 facilities reported outbreaks Thursday, bringing the state's total number of long-term care outbreaks to 114, or one-in-four facilities.

JOHNSTON, Iowa — The governor's office will allocate $14 million of state CARES Act funds to assist long-term care facilities with increasing testing and staffing costs following a spike in COVID-19 outbreaks.

During her press conference Thursday, Gov. Kim Reynolds said an additional 20 long-term care facilities will be added to the state's coronavirus website, bringing the total number of active outbreaks to 114. 

"News of long term care outbreaks is, you know, very concerning as it impacts our most vulnerable population," Reynolds said. "And as we saw earlier this year the consequences of COVID-19 and these facilities can be devastating for residents and their families."

An outbreak happens when three residents test positive for the virus within 14 days of each other. The state has a total of 434 long-term care facilities, meaning around one-in-four facilities are currently experiencing an outbreak.

As of Oct. 29, the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) said 181 facilities have experienced an outbreak since the beginning of the pandemic. Local 5 reached out to the department to see where the total stands as of Thursday.

Reynolds said her administration is in constant contact with long-term care facilities to ensure they are implementing adequate mitigation measures. 

"In an effort to more effectively assist long-term care facilities with staffing concerns, the state has provided updated guidance on preparation and implementation of emergency staffing plans," she said.

The most recent guidance on the IDPH's website is dated Nov. 3. 

The State Hygienic Lab will be providing antigen test cards to support routine surveillance testing at long-term care facilities, according to Reynolds.

Contact tracing and case investigation

Donned in a face mask, State Epidemiologist Dr. Caitlin Pedati stepped up to the podium to explain contact tracing and case investigation in the state.

"So, when we talk about case investigation, we're talking about an individual who has received a positive COVID result," Pedati began.  

She said contact tracers contact those infected with the virus regardless if they experienced symptoms or not. Contact tracers will reach out to these folks and ask them questions about themselves. 

"We do that for a couple of reasons, partly because we want to understand a little bit about these people and who the virus is affecting," Pedati explained. 

Contact tracers will ask infected people their age, underlying health conditions and what they do for a living. 

"That helps us better understand a virus that, remember, we haven't known about for just under quite a year now," said Pedati. 

As contact tracers learn more about the infected person, the more they learn about the virus' activity and what can put others at risk for contracting it. 

Pedati said since COVID-19 is a person-to-person virus, it can be difficult to know what activity may have put the infected person at risk for becoming sick, especially if they're involved with a lot of activities. 

Pedati reminded Iowans that once you find out you have the virus, it's important to limit the spread by isolating at home for 10 days. 

"Anybody who has received a positive result indicating that you have COVID-19, we ask that you stay home for a 10 day period, either from the beginning of your symptoms, or from the day you got that test positive if you never had symptoms," Pedati said. 

Contact tracers also ask infected people who else they've been around. 

"As numbers have increased, we've increasingly focused on high-risk situations, which includes households," said Pedati. 

"We know that households are a place where all kinds of illnesses can spread quickly, whether we're talking about flu or norovirus. When we live together, there are more chances for a virus that moves from one person to the other, to move between us," Pedati explained. 

Pedati moved on to explain quarantining, "which is the recommendation for healthy people who have been exposed to somebody with COVID, to stay home themselves." 

Those quarantining are asked to do so for 14 days regardless of whether or not they have a negative test. Pedati said the reason for doing this is because a person in quarantine could still be incubating the virus or they may not have become sick yet.

Pedait said Iowans need to follow these guidelines for isolation and quarantine to help limit the spread of the virus. Those that don't have to isolate or quarantine should continue to follow the mitigation efforts implemented by the governor, which include wearing face masks and social distancing. 

"I want to acknowledge that I know that there are many people who are tired, and that this has been hard. But there are some good things that we're starting to learn around vaccines and around immunity," Pedati said.

Until then, it's everyone's responsibility to do their part to limit the spread of COVID-19 by practicing mitigation efforts as the holidays creep in.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends frequent hand washing, avoiding close contact and staying home if you are sick as main areas of focus for prevention and containment of COVID-19. The CDC also recommends preventative care measures like getting your flu shot. 

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