IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — A major nursing home for veterans reported its first two COVID-19 cases among residents on Saturday — a worrying development on a day in which cases hit a new daily high in the state.
One resident tested positive Friday and another Saturday during mass testing at the Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown, Commandant Timon Oujiri said. They were transferred immediately to the Veterans Affairs hospital in Des Moines for precautionary care, he said.
Iowa reported Saturday that 648 more individuals had tested positive for the coronavirus, smashing the daily record set of 521 set on Friday even though hundreds of fewer tests were completed. The state reported that five more people died of the disease and 293 patients were hospitalized.
Half of Iowa’s 112 deaths from the virus have been tied to more than a dozen state-confirmed outbreaks at long-term care facilities. Ten percent of the state’s 5,092 total confirmed cases have been residents or staff in those facilities. The actual number of infections in the state is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested and studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick.
State officials have closely monitored the veterans home, which houses more than 500 residents who are considered vulnerable to the virus due to their age and health conditions. It’s one of the largest state-run nursing homes for veterans in the U.S.
Marshall County, where the home is based, has seen a surge in cases, some of them tied to a large JBS USA pork plant that has remained in operation.
Oujiri said that 11 staff members at the home tested positive for the virus after showing symptoms. An additional employee was confirmed positive after mass testing took place Thursday and Friday. Nearly 200 other tests on staff and residents were negative.
Another major meatpacking plant reported an outbreak. West Liberty Foods said 52 employees at a turkey processing plant in West Liberty, Iowa, tested positive for COVID-19.
While predicting the state’s peak is still weeks away, Gov. Kim Reynolds is moving to lift some of the restrictions that were imposed to fight the virus.
Reynolds said Friday that her first step in reopening Iowa’s economy was to allow elective surgeries to resume Monday. Her proclamation also allowed farmers markets to resume with some restrictions.
University of Iowa Health Care said in a statement that although elective procedures will resume, it will hardly be a return to normal, the Cedar Rapids Gazette reported.
“I think that we’re heading into a new phase of the COVID epidemic, and I think we’re beginning to understand in Iowa what the new normal looks like,” CEO Suresh Gunasekaran said. “The new normal is that for a significant period of time, I think we’re going to have COVID in our community, but we’re also going to have to take care of other medical conditions right alongside of it.”
Gunasekaran said the hospital “can’t keep delaying medically-essential services in the name of reserving capacity for COVID. You don’t have to make choices — either/or.”
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.