Johnson County coronavirus patients all participated in the same Hills Bank and Trust Friends Club cruise in Egypt

As of Thursday evening, the 15 cases of coronavirus in Johnson County stemmed from the same Egyptian cruise, which was sponsored by Hills Bank and Trust.


Hannah Kinson

Hills Bank and Trust Company is seen on April 17, 2019.

Charles Peckman, Senior Reporter

Johnson County residents who have tested positive for COVID-19 – 14 as of Thursday – were each part of a cruise to Egypt sponsored by Hills Bank and Trust, as the Cedar-Rapids Gazette initially reported Wednesday.

The Daily Iowan held publication of this fact on Wednesday in order to await response from the bank confirming the cruise’s involvement in coronavirus cases in the county. Despite reaching out numerous times for clarification in that regard, the DI had not received a comment by press time.

The trip in question, part of which involved a four-night cruise down the Nile River, was offered to members of the bank’s Friends Club. According to the bank’s website, customers must be over 50 years old and maintain $10,000 in deposits to gain access to the club.

State officials said Wednesday that one patient in Johnson County — the first person to be treated for COVID-19 at the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics — is between the ages of 61 and 80 and was on the same cruise. The trip was initially mentioned by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds during her press conference regarding the virus on Sunday.

Although Hills Bank Marketing Director Brenda Myers said she could not disclose information that violates federal privacy laws in an email to the DI on Wednesday, she did say that a second Friends Club trip to Egypt, slated for March 4-16, was ended early in consultation with the travel agent.

“As [Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds] has publicly stated, a number of Iowans tested positive for the COVID-19 virus after returning from a trip to Egypt,” Myers said. “We cannot share information about those who have been tested because that information is kept confidential by the Iowa Department of Public Health and is not shared with Hills Bank.”

Related: Iowa governor makes disaster proclamation after five more presumptive positive coronavirus cases found

As more information about the virus is disseminated throughout the state, Myers said Hills Bank and Trust has been working with the Iowa Department of Public Health, adding that all Friends Club gatherings and travel are suspended until “further notice.”

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the individuals who have tested positive, and we hope they each have a rapid and full recovery,” Myers said.

Although the University of Iowa Center for Advancement also recently sponsored a trip to Egypt, Executive Director of Communication and Marketing Dana Larson said the Center’s trip has nothing to do with presumptive positive cases in Johnson County, adding that the responsibility for trip itineraries lies with the travel organization, not the Center for Advancement.

“We market the trips as a benefit for our friends,” she said. “Within each trip itinerary is the contact information for the organizer who makes the trip decisions. For more information, you would have to talk to the tour operators.”

Trip information for Legends of the Nile was not readily available – due to the trip’s departure on March 3 – but a screen-capture of the website from the Wayback Machine stated that the trip was organized by Chicago-based AHI Travel. Although reached out to for comment, The Daily Iowan did not hear back from the group by press time.

At a press conference regarding the virus on Wednesday afternoon, UI Senior Vice President for Finance and Operations Rod Lehnertz said he is staying in close contact with key players from the Center for Advancement.

“Obviously the [Center for Advancement] is an important part of the university community and our mission,” he said. “A lot of their staff travel … they are working with our critical incident management team and remain steadfast in protecting their employees.”

For more coverage of the coronavirus outbreak, click here.