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Local 5 - weareiowa.com | Des Moines Local News & Weather | Des Moines, Iowa

These counties don't have COVID-19 cases. What's their secret?

56 counties out of the 99 have positive coronavirus cases

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — Almost a month ago, Iowa reported its first positive coronavirus cases. Now, nearly 500 residents have tested positive for the disease. It's confirmed to be in dozens of counties across the state, but some counties haven't made the list each time the governor sends out her release to the media. What's so special about these areas?

State public health officials have said that "it's only a matter of time" that every county reports a coronavirus case. Local 5 spoke to several county health officials in the counties where no cases have been confirmed. Many of them cited preparation as their "secret" ingredient for avoiding COVID-19.

Credit: Iowa Dept. of Public Health

"We had been working with local businesses, the hospital, schools, and others to know what their plans are and to be prepared for this," said Katie Thornton-Lang of the Grundy County Health Department. "Our number one priority was to make sure everyone was prepared. And we think we are right now."

Around 12,000 people live in Grundy County. So far, nine people there have been tested, all have come back with negative results for COVID-19. Physicians in the county perform the tests and those kits are then sent over to the state hygienic lab. Screenings have also been set up at the local hospital to prevent the spread of coronavirus. But Thornton-Lang credited the diligence of residents listening to the governor's orders to stay at home and work from home if they can. 

"You know, most people work in neighboring counties here," said Thornton-Lang. "Marshall, Blackhawk, they're all nearby. So we are kind of a bedroom community."

Credit: IDPH
Grundy County is surrounded by communities with positive COVID-19 cases

In Clarke County, a community task force was quickly formed at the beginning of March to address COVID-19. Tom Bahls with the Clarke County Hospital Foundation said that preparedness might be what has helped the county stave off COVID-19. But he can't point to one factor for why the county seems immune to the virus.

"We don't like to say it's inevitable, but we recognize that it is likely we will have a positive test in the future," said Bahls. "I think the biggest thing that stands out for me...is the incident command group we set up. And we involved emergency management, the school districts, the city, law enforcement, county, state and city, as well as the hospital in determining action steps that we need to take now and what we needed to do in the future moving forward. And so we have done a lot in regard to preparing our individual agencies for the potential arrival of COVID-19. But I think even more so, it's been communicated to our community very well. And the community has reacted."

On Monday, the Iowa National Guard set up a tent in the southwest parking lot of Clarke County Hospital. The tents will serve as a sheltered screening (check-in) area for patients prior to their entrance into the hospital. There is one hospital in Clarke County that will handle coronavirus patients.

Bahls said that he can't point to one factor that might attribute Clarke County's lack of COVID-19 cases. He said that the medical professionals have been testing people; more than 25 tests have gone to the state lab.

"We have a casino here, we have an Amtrack station here, so everyone kind of thought it would definitely get here. But the thing about this virus is that it doesn't discriminate," said Bahls. 

Of the 43 counties that are not reporting positive COVID-19 cases, 36 have populations of less than 15,000 residents. But both Grundy County and Clarke County public health officials Local 5 spoke to did not credit a low population to why they don't have coronavirus cases. 

"I'm proud of our county and how we've reacted to this new situation," said Thornton-Lang. "You know, we prepare for this kind of stuff. We work all year on preparing for the worst-case scenario."

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