There have been no positive COVID-19 tests in Hardin County, but health care providers, educators, businesses and others are heeding the advice of public health agencies. That’s led to canceled events and special precautions here at home, throughout Iowa and across the United States.

The Times Citizen staff collected information from throughout the county to provide updates. This information was up to date on Thursday, but may change at a moment's notice.

In response to the global pandemic, a designation that was announced by the World Health Organization this week, the Iowa Department of Public Health has established a COVID-19 Hotline. Dial 2-1-1 for information about the virus and how to protect yourself, or visit the IDPH website here.

If you have Hardin County specific questions, call Greenbelt Home Care/Hardin County Public Health at 641-939-8444, or submit your questions to the Times Citizen here and we’ll find the answers.

Health Care

As of Thursday, there are no known cases of COVID-19 in Hardin County, but health care professionals are protecting themselves and patients from the virus as they conduct day-to-day business.

  • Health officials at Greenbelt Home Care/Hardin County Public Health and Hansen Family Hospital said there have been no positive COVID-19 tests in Hardin County, and they are not aware of anyone in Hardin County having been tested for COVID-19.
  • Hansen Family Hospital has COVID-19 test kits, but the decision about whether to test for the virus is out of local physicians’ hands. If a patient presents with COVID-19 symptoms – upper respiratory infection, fever, cough, shortness of breath – the physician will ask the patient a series of questions. The physician then contacts the Iowa Department Public Health and that agency decides whether or not the test can be administered. If it can, a swab is taken, and the test is sent to IDPH. Results of the test would be delivered back to the patient’s physician.
  • The hospital is conducting morning meetings about COVID-19 every day. During that meeting information is shared and disseminated throughout the hospital.
  • Hansen Family Hospital is restricting the number of visitors per patient to two people at a time.
  • If a person feels they may have COVID-19, they’re asked to call their medical provider first so preparations can be made. At Hansen Family Hospital that will mean taking the patient directly from the building’s entrance to an exam room so they don’t sit in the waiting area, said HFH Chief Nursing Officer Lori Krenos.
  • Krenos said the hospital has stepped up cleaning of “high-touch” surfaces.
  • The best defense is to regularly wash your hands. Use very warm water, and scrub with soap for at least 20 seconds.

Education

Hardin County’s public K-12 school districts are monitoring the situation around COVID-19. While Des Moines Public Schools announced Thursday that they will close for 17 days, there have been no closures announced in Hardin County. On Thursday superintendents at seven North Central Iowa school districts drafted a letter that was sent to students and families. It says, in part: “We wanted to take this opportunity to let our communities know that we are taking this situation seriously, but also need to weigh the impact our decisions have not only on education, but also on our families. While our ultimate goal is to minimize the disruption, please be aware that changes to our operations may need to be made with relatively short notice.”

  • The Eldora-New Providence and Hubbard-Radcliffe school districts will be on spring break next week, which Superintendent Dr. Adam Zellmer said presents a different set of challenges because students and staff may leave the state or the country.
  • In the Iowa Falls and Alden school districts, Superintendent Tony Neumann said no local activities had been canceled as of Thursday morning. The band is scheduled to travel to St. Louis next week, and that trip is still scheduled, but school officials are monitoring the situation.
  • Neumann said that while colleges suspending in-person instruction affects students who are generally 18 to 22 years old, suspending instruction at K-12 schools would put parents of young children in a difficult position of having to find child care or take time off work. That concern is part of the decision process.
  • Zellmer said many students in the local school districts qualify for free or reduced-price meals, and their school meals are sometimes the only dependable food every day. Also, he said, many students don’t have access to the internet at home, so online instruction would be difficult.
  • The Iowa High School Speech Association has canceled state speech contests that were scheduled for this weekend.

Students at Ellsworth Community College, Marshalltown Community College and Iowa Valley Community College won’t see many immediate changes when they return to class from spring break on Monday. IVCCD Chancellor Dr. Kristie Fisher said the following:

  • While Iowa’s Regent Universities, some private colleges, and Kirkwood Community College are holding online-only classes for the next few weeks, IVCCD schools will hold regular face-to-face classes. Fisher said this is due in part to the district’s lack of large lecture hall classes with hundreds of students seated in tight proximity.
  • The IVCCD campuses are ready to switch over to only-online classes if needed.
  • Fisher and other officials are monitoring information from the Iowa Department of Public Health, Iowa Department of Education, and the Centers for Disease Control to make decisions.
  • Dormitories will remain open until further notice.
  • Planning for contingencies began before last week’s spring break.
  • The district is working with the National Junior College Athletic Association regarding upcoming athletic events and seasons.
  • The district has discussed the possibility of students being able to drop courses without penalty, but no decisions have been made. Fisher said she’s confident most classes could be completed online, so there would be no reason a student couldn’t finish the semester.
  • Campus cleaning policies have been ramped up in an effort to keep things as clean as possible.

Nursing Homes

COVID-19 has proven especially dangerous for people of advanced age, and those with compromised immune systems. Because of that, area nursing homes are taking extra precautions to keep their residents safe.

  • Iowa Falls’ Scenic Living Communities Executive Director Lora Juhl said the organization is applying an overabundance of caution. While the protocols are similar to those taken with influenza, the risks seem to be higher with COVID-19.
  • Eldora’s facilities, owned by Care Initiatives, have implemented restrictions. Visitors to Eldora Specialty Care and Valley View Specialty Care will be limited to staff, health care providers and immediate family members.
  • Scenic Living Communities in Iowa Falls is also limiting visitors. All individuals entering the facility will be screened to determine whether they have a cough, sore throat, fever or a respiratory illness, or to learn if they have recently traveled to COVID-19 hotspots. All activities involving outside groups or individuals have been cancelled indefinitely. This, along with emphasizing hand-washing to all residents and visitors, will help reduce the chance of exposure to the COVID-19 as well as influenza, officials said.
  • Area facilities have canceled certain group activities that take staff and residents outside the buildings, and are not allowing entertainment from the outside into buildings.
  • Juhl said that current protocol being followed is based on the fact that there are no reported cases of COVID-19 in Hardin or any adjacent counties. She said that protocol will “change dramatically if and when a case is confirmed in Hardin County or a connecting county.”

Church

Not every local church is following the same procedures, so the public is encouraged to contact their church leaders for more information about what’s being done in your faith community. Churches in the area are taking precautionary measures to slow or stop the possible spread of COVID-19. As of Thursday, the Times Citizen has not learned of any services being canceled. However, some precautionary measures have been put in place:

  • Many churches are streaming church services online via recording or podcast.
  • All of the church officials the Times Citizen spoke with encouraged members of their congregation to stay home if they don’t feel well. There’s no shame in missing a service or two.
  • Some area churches are no longer passing collection plates during service, but are instead placing a stationary plate or basket somewhere in the church.
  • Anyone serving Holy Communion is required to wash their hands immediately before the ceremony.
  • The sharing of peace is verbal only - no shaking hands or hugging.
  • Most local churches have an email list for updates. If you’d like to be added to a list, call and give them your email address.
  • Local church leaders stressed that current precautions could change at any time, so please stay informed through church communications.
  • The Rev. Kevin Earleywine, the Catholic priest in Iowa Falls, Eldora, Ackley and Hampton, said beginning this weekend the church will no longer offer sacramental wine during Communion until further notice.

Athletics

Area athletic directors and coaches are preparing to deal with the reality that local, state and national events could be canceled in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

  • The Iowa Falls-Alden girls and boys track teams were scheduled to run at next week's Iowa State University Classic indoors at the Lied Rec Center in Ames, but the meet was canceled. To make up for it, IF-A Coach Dave Harms said the team will hold an intrasquad scrimmage in Iowa Falls during Tuesday's practice.
  • Ellsworth Community College Athletic Director Nate Forsyth said some community colleges have banned out-of-state travel, and the NJCAA National Meeting scheduled for April 1-3 in Charlotte, N.C. will now be conducted online. Forsyth, who is also ECC’s softball coach, said he expects that some games will be canceled in the near future. The NJCAA has said it is leaving those decisions to the community colleges.
  • There has been no official word on the status of the NICL Indoor Track Meet in Waverly on Tuesday, March 24.
  • South Hardin girls tennis coach Scott Swartz said he doesn’t foresee there being any tennis cancellations. If anything, he said, officials may stop handshakes before and after matches.
  • AGWSR Activities Director Lowell Young said the district is taking a “wait and see” approach to events. AGWSR’s first scheduled spring athletic competition is March 30.

Entertainment

Myra Mucino, manager of the Met Theater in Iowa Falls, said she’s been scrambling to book movies for upcoming weeks because studios are delaying the release of some films due to fear that the public will not attend movies because of COVID-19.

  • This week’s new release “I Still Believe” will run as normal, 7 p.m. shows from Tuesday to Friday and shows at 3 and 7 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
  • Both theaters are being sanitized after every show and there are sanitizer stations in both theaters and the lobby.
  • Mucino said she has no plans as of now to close the theater or decrease the number of shows, although she’ll consider it if it’s warranted.
  • Mucino said she’s not worried about people staying away from the theater at this time.
  • The following movie releases have officially been delayed by their studios due to COVID-19: “Blue Story”; “F9”; “The Lovebirds”; “No Time to Die”; “Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway”; and “A Quiet Place Part II”

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