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This is madness

COVID-19 concerns affecting services in Newton

Jennifer Williams, a registered nurse at MercyOne Newton Medical Center, demonstrates how she would put on Powered Air Purifying Respirator (PAPR) in the event a patient were to contract COVID-19. Medical professionals recommend the public practice basic preventive measures like washing hands and staying away from people who are sick, among other things.
Jennifer Williams, a registered nurse at MercyOne Newton Medical Center, demonstrates how she would put on Powered Air Purifying Respirator (PAPR) in the event a patient were to contract COVID-19. Medical professionals recommend the public practice basic preventive measures like washing hands and staying away from people who are sick, among other things.

There’s a different kind of March Madness occurring across the country — so much so it is spilling into our Iowa communities.

As tensions and fears surrounding COVID-19 continue to escalate, Newton and the surrounding areas are reacting in their own ways while the rest of the United States grapples with its own cancellations and varying levels of response to the novel coronavirus — which has remained the No. 1 talking point for some time.

Sports teams have taken a hit. The NCAA has cancelled its tournaments for the men’s and women’s basketball teams; the NBA has suspended its regular season; MLB spring training has been put to a halt and rescheduled the beginning games; and the NHL has temporarily put a stop to the season.

Several concerts and world tours have been postponed indefinitely. Disney has held back the release of the films “Mulan,” “The New Mutants” and “Antlers,” The Guardian reported. The newly reunited Rage Against the Machine shelved American tour concerts until May. High profile festivals have also responded.

In Iowa, the cancellations seemed to snowball once prominent state universities and colleges announced class cancellations following spring break. Last week, Des Moines Area Community College announced students would have a short break and then shift many face-to-face classes to online by the end of March.

Since then, a number of entities around Newton posted notifications on social media to inform the public about changes in protocol or event cancellations.

It is important to note there are no positive cases of COVID-19 in Jasper County. Messages of prevention, preparedness, education and communication about the novel coronavirus are being shared by health care officials in the area.

“MercyOne Newton, Newton Clinic, Jasper County EMA and many other community partners are working closely together to prepare if the coronavirus coms to Jasper County,” Becky Pryor, the Jasper County Health Department Administrator, said.

The health department recommends citizens stay calm and rely on facts not fear. Good hand washing is a must, and staying at home when sick is also important. Calling medical providers first before going to the doctor or emergency department is also recommended.

Those who have questions about COVID-19 are to call the pubic hotline 2-1-1.

Last week when officials announced the first few confirmed cases of the virus in Iowa, Newton Daily News published an article about MercyOne Newton Medical Center’s precautions surrounding the novel coronavirus.

Chris Larson, a certified infection preventionist, said, “If anyone walks into our hospital or one of our clinics at any of our intake points and they’re coughing, they’re masked immediately. We go through the screening questions the (Iowa Department of Public Health) has given us and find out if they have the fever and the cough — but the travel history is key.”

If a case is found in MercyOne Newton, the hospital nursing supervisor is advised. He or she will wear personal protective equipment, such as a Powered Air Purifying Respirator (PAPR). The IDPH is also notified and would get the hospital in contact with one of its epidemiologists.

MercyOne Newton is following the criteria guidelines sent out by IDPH thus far. The hospital is also tasked with spreading awareness out to the community, which is in the midst of a flu season.

The county health department also stressed communication with the public and community partners. So far, that seems to be working. Teachers and administrators of the Newton Community School District called off a high school band trip to Orlando and a Washington D.C. field trip for the middle school.

“I have no timetable on the reschedule, but it will probably be for early June 2020,” Jim Beerends, director of bands at Newton High School, said in a Facebook post. He also noted the school would “work diligently” refunding money to students who cannot attend the rescheduled date, which is not finalized.

Beerends said, “This decision does not come lightly and we feel the health and safety of our students needs to be our first priority.”

Berg Middle School is planning on a new summer trip date to Washington D.C./New York sometime between June 27 and July 2. The school said “this is for the safety of everyone involved.”Parents and students were notified of these changes and will be alerted when more itinerary details become available.

City of Newton and its respective departments also seem to be reacting to COVID-19. The city released a notification Friday reminding Newton citizens of the different options they have to view council meetings, if they prefer to not attend in-person.

City council meetings are televised on Mediacom channels 12, 85 or 121.12 and are also streamed live on the City of Newton website The city also cited a March 12 press release from the Iowa Department of Health stating whether planned community events should be cancelled.

The Newton Public Library is also taking precautions. Staff posted a sign in the library reminding guests the puzzle table is currently in hiatus due to health purposes. The library also removed its toys for cleaning and will return them once concerns about COVID-19 subside.

“We are also wiping down and disinfecting our computers and surfaces regularly throughout the day,” the library said in a Facebook post. “At this point in time, we are still planning on holding all of the programs and events occurring inside the library.”

However, those plans have since changed. A Saturday press release from Newton Public Library Director Nicole Lindstrom said all library programs and outreach events are cancelled through March 31. Meeting and conference room reservations are all put on hold until further noticed.

The library will still remain open. If hours were to change, the library will communicate those alterations to the community immediately.

“We encourage patrons who feel ill or who have come in contact with those who are ill, to refrain from visiting the library and call 641-792-4108 to renew their items,” Lindstrom said in the release.

The Republican Party of Iowa decided it would move forward with its county conventions held this past weekend. The party reiterated hygiene and other cleanliness information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Iowa Department of Public Health:

• If you aren’t feeling well, please stay home to protect yourself and those around you.

• Wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water.

• If you have traveled abroad or have been in an airport in the past two weeks, please stay home.

• If you have any pre-existing medical conditions or are immunocompromised, please stay home.

• Do not shake hands.

On the opposite side of the aisle, the Iowa Democratic Party announced it has postponed the county conventions to a future date. After speaking with public health and elected officials, the party came “to the determination that the spreading coronavirus poses a risk” outweighing a temporary delay.

Folks who regularly attend congregate meals held by Jasper County Elderly Nutrition will no longer be eating at their respective meal sites in Newton, Colfax and Monroe. The program will also not deliver meals to Prairie City Methodist Church. Instead, Elderly Nutrition will shift to home-delivered meals.

Kelli Van Manen, program director of Jasper County Elderly Nutrition, encouraged anyone that normally attends the congregate meal sites to call 641-792-7102 to set up home-delivered meals if needed. Calls are required to be made 24 hours in advance.

Other services wanted to reassure citizens of the safety measures being put in place. Yanni’s Bar & Grill, 2002 First Ave. E., posted a notification informing customers it is working closely with the Iowa Restaurant Association and has “extensive cleanliness policies and procedures in place” to protect against germs.

The Cellar Peanut Pub in Newton announced it was even downsizing its St. Patrick’s Day party festivities this past weekend. Green beer and Irish drink specials were still served, but no bagpipes to draw a crowd. The pub’s complimentary peanuts, table tents and menus were pulled from tables.

Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or

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