Iowa health officials identify eight presumptive cases of COVID-19

Transmission electron microscopic image of an isolate from the first U.S. case of COVID-19.The spherical viral particles, colorized blue, contain cross-sections through the viral genome, seen as black dots. Image courtesy CDC

Officials have confirmed a presumptive positive case of novel coronavirus in a woman who works at a Council Bluffs restaurant — plus four more suspected cases in Johnson County, where three were identified on Sunday, Iowa Public Radio reports.

Pottawattamie County public health officials say the patient there is a woman between the ages of 41 and 60 who recently traveled to California and has underlying health issues. Planning and Development Director Matt Wyant – who oversees public health for the Pottawattamie County – says the woman was working at a Panera Bread restaurant in Council Bluffs, which was shut down this weekend.

“Panera Bread did take the step of notifying their employees when the possible came across and they took a step that I compliment them on,” he says. “They shut down their facility and they are going through the cleaning process right now to disinfect it.”

Pottawattamie County Supervisor Justin Schultz says county officials were notified Saturday of this possible case.

“They went over to the University of Nebraska Medical Center to have the test conducted and after they were quarantined we were notified we have a presumptive positive,” Schultz says.

The woman worked at the Panera Bread located in the Metro Crossings shopping center in Council Bluffs. Officials say customers do not need to self-quarantine.

The four newly-identified patients in Johnson County are all above the age of 61. Like the three previously identified presumptive cases in the county, all four had been on a cruise to Egypt in February and returned to Iowa on March 3.

Governor Kim Reynolds early tonight signed a statewide disaster declaration, “activating the disaster response and recovery aspects of the Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management’s Iowa Emergency Response Plan.”

Two eastern Iowa legislators — both Democrats — have urged leaders to take more precautions in the state capitol to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Senator Bill Dotzler of Waterloo suggests the legislature complete its work as quickly as possible and adjourn for the year.

“Our capitol is certainly a place where different viruses and colds are spread easily because people come from all over the state of Iowa, meet with us…and it’s very easy quite often stuff is transmitted through this capitol,” Dotzler said.

Dotzler has suggested hand sanitizer dispensers be placed throughout the statehouse.

“It might help remind some of the individuals that are out there to shake our hands that, I guess, we should probably work more toward fist bumps or elbow bumps,” Dotzler said last Thursday.

Senator Joe Bolkcom of Iowa City agrees that getting the 2020 legislative session concluded quickly makes some sense.

“I know across the state businesses are preparing,” Bolkcom said. “I know our universities are preparing for classes not to continue and figuring out how to finish the semester online.”

Bolkcom made his comments late last week, before state officials revealed there are seven presumptive positive cases of Covid-19 in Johnson County.

“The capitol is a place where people from all over the state visit on a daily basis. It’s kind of an incubator for colds and flus and potentially the spread of Covid-19,” Bolkcom said last Thursday. “I hope we don’t have to deal with it.”

The top Republican in the Iowa Senate said legislative leaders are talking with the governor on a regular basis and prepared to follow her recommendations.

(Reporting by Ryan Matheny, KMA, Shenandoah; additional reporting by Radio Iowa’s O. Kay Henderson)