OSKALOOSA, Iowa (AP) — The daughter of an Iowa nursing home resident who died suddenly in a coronavirus outbreak said Tuesday she believes the state could have done more to stop the spread and protect elderly citizens such as her father.
Roger Coe, 86, died Friday at the Crystal Heights Care Center in Oskaloosa after the virus quickly spread through his home. Coe, who served two decades in the U.S. Air Force, leaves behind eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
The center said Monday that 48 residents and 13 employees have tested positive over roughly the last two weeks. Six residents have died in recent days at the home, which has a capacity of 92.
Sherrie Coe of Fort Collins, Colorado, said her father was known for wheeling himself to the nurses’ station every day and playing his harmonica for anyone who would listen. He learned that he was positive only days before he died.
A retired Xerox technician, he had suffered from memory problems but was otherwise pretty healthy, she said.
“He was a middle-class guy just trying to make it,” Sherrie Coe said of her father. “What makes me sad the most about it is, in places like Iowa this didn’t have to happen if people would have paid attention.”
Coe questioned how the virus got inside the home given that Mahaska County had relatively few cases before the outbreak at Crystal Heights. She noted that Gov. Kim Reynolds was among the few who never issued a stay-at-home order and has steadily relaxed public health restrictions over the last month.
Coe said that has made her father’s death particularly “tough to watch” because other states did more to protect public health.
“To me, she’s just failed woefully at keeping her constituents safe,” Coe said of Reynolds.
A spokesman for the governor didn’t immediately respond.
Reynolds and her administration have defended the steps that the state has taken to protect nursing home residents, while acknowledging they haven’t always been enough. They have included closing the facilities to visitors, screening staff before shifts and sending teams to investigate and conduct testing when positive cases are confirmed.
Reynolds said Tuesday that saving lives cannot take priority over protecting people’s economic livelihoods, and that both must happen simultaneously. She announced that gatherings of larger than 10 could resume and several more businesses can reopen June 1.
At least 251 residents of long-term care facilities have died of coronavirus across the state, more than half of Iowa’s 473 fatalities from COVID-19, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health.
Outbreaks in which three or more residents have been infected have been confirmed at 37 facilities, more than 8 percent of those statewide. Nearly 1,600 residents and employees have tested positive, comprising 9 percent of Iowa’s cases.
Roger Coe grew up in New Sharon, Iowa and joined the Air Force after graduating from high school in 1951. He later worked for Xerox for many years in Denver and Urbandale, Iowa before retiring to the Oskaloosa area. He had three children with his first wife, who died in 1982 of health problems. He later remarried and divorced.
Sherrie Coe, a 62-year-old retired beer factory worker, edited her father’s obituary to make clear that coronavirus was the cause of death. She said that the deaths of nursing home residents have been treated as insignificant.
“It’s important for people to know what’s going on,” she said. “It’s something that we haven’t been through in our lifetimes, and I think it’s important that we get it right.”