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Tisha Coleman, Linn County Health Department nurse administrator, informed the County Commissioners Monday that the COVID-19 virus has been considered a pandemic virus as of March 11. With that, she and Emergency Management Coordinator Doug Barlet and others have worked to try to lessen the impact of any possible outbreak that may hit Linn County.

“The goal is to reduce the impact so clinic and hospital workers are not overwhelmed,” said Coleman. “Community leaders have the responsibility to help.”

She continued that if someone is infected and is yet to show symptoms and goes into a larger group, that group has the potential of becoming infected. “The goal is not to eliminate, but to postpone and lower the mortality rate.”

She said that the first line of defense is in social distancing or leaving six feet to 10 feet of distance between you and another person. The virus sticks to hard surfaces like door knobs, table tops, etc., but is heavy and won’t travel far distances through the air. “Keep people home until this recedes,” said Coleman.

She said 80 percent of cases may only experience mild symptoms, but the vulnerable population that makes up 27 percent of Linn County’s population is the elderly, or age 60-plus.

“We recommend voluntary isolation to slow the spread or flatten the curve,” said Coleman.

She then asked the commissioners to be allowed to hire more temporary nurses on an as-needed basis to help if the virus spreads in the county. After discussion, the commissioners approved Coleman hiring temporary full-time nurses as needed.

“I can work from home,” said Coleman, who has access to computers there, “but if I get exposed, I’ll need help in the office.”

Commissioner Mike Page commented that the hiring of nurses would not be inexpensive, but would be necessary.

The commission then discussed that senior congregate meals would have to be looked at as the elderly were vulnerable. They said that the county would have to come up with a plan to deliver meals to seniors, helping them avoid going out where they could be exposed to the virus.

Commissioner Rick James said, “If people feel you’re overreacting rather than under-reacting, that tells you you’re doing the right thing.”

Barlet said, “If we slow it down, we’ll hopefully keep it below the healthcare capacity line.”

The group then discussed essential and non-essential services at the county level. “We have no cases; we’re preparing for the situation. There is a 60-day window on the governor’s declaration specific to the coronavirus. We have the phone bank up with 10 phones.”

He also said the county has capped the volume of large gatherings at 20 people with the goal of protecting the high-risk population. “The feds recommended 50, as did the state.”

Monday afternoon President Trump said the recommended group size was lowered to 10 nationally.

Coleman said that the public health officer said the maximum size of a group recommended was set based on county population and other factors.

High-risk populations were recommended at no more than 10 people in a meeting.

The public health officer told Coleman and Barlet that the goal was to stay ahead of the virus as it is hard to catch up if the county gets behind.

Barlet said, “The Ohio governor was criticized for taking the action we’re taking, but the same people will criticize him that not enough was done.”

He then said that Colorado just experienced a major outbreak with 135 people testing positive for the virus.

Anyone experiencing symptoms of fever, cough and shortness of breath is urged to call the county phone bank at 913-795-7302.

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