FORT DODGE, Iowa — Dr. Megan Srinivas is an infectious disease physician in Fort Dodge and is the only one in existence in a 70 mile radius. She says if Iowans don’t take social distancing seriously, rural communities are not currently equipped to handle the consequences.
As COVID-19 testing increases in Iowa, so does the number of confirmed cases. It’s something health officials were expecting, but not something rural Iowa is prepared for.
“The biggest issue is that people don’t realize that it’s already here. It’s not a matter of when it’s going to spread here or where it’s going to spread, it’s already in rural America,” said Dr. Srinivas.
According to Dr. Srinivas, Iowans in Fort Dodge and Webster County are calling clinics and local health departments with symptoms of COVID-19, but they can’t be tested for the virus because there are not enough testing kits available.
“Most are being tested for influenza and strep and frequently coming back negative for both of those, making our suspicion for COVID-19 even higher,” said Dr. Srinivas.
Patients with mild symptoms are sent home and told to quarantine their whole household. If symptoms worsen, they are urged to call 911 to receive intensive care, especially if someone is experiencing difficulty breathing.
Currently, Gov. Kim Reynolds is not considering a “Shelter in Place,” even though multiple surrounding states and cities, including Des Moines, have implemented similar measures.
“People don’t realize the severity. They’re still doing all of these things on the side that are exposing others to the virus that they might be carrying without realizing it and increasing the spread. This is the time we need to do shelter at home. A few other states have enacted it and we need to follow suit. The problem is the longer we wait, the longer we are going to have to enforce social distancing because the number of cases are just exponentially increasing,” said Dr. Srinivas.
Each person infected with COVID-19, symptomatic or not, on average is going to spread the virus to 2.3 other people. Dr. Srinivas says this will only make Iowa’s case numbers dramatically rise, becoming a threat to hospitals in rural Iowa because they won’t be able to keep up as resources such as personal protective equipment decrease across the country, along with necessities like ventilators.
“Out in this area we only have eight ventilators for this entire county, per the records of the American Hospital Association. That’s not going to be enough to meet our needs,” said Dr. Srinivas. This is based off of a 2018 report from the American Hospital Association for ICU ventilators in similar regions, but it’s expected that resources will be reallocated to increase this number in the future.
This will cause Iowans to miss out on life-saving services, which is why Dr. Srinivas is urging Iowans to stay home to help flatten the curve.
“It is so important that we are in this together, we stay at home together, that we watch out for our communities so we can get on top of the spread and stop it as soon as possible,” said Dr. Srinivas.