University of Iowa public-health experts talk COVID-19, ways people can stay healthy

Two University of Iowa public-health experts appeared on Iowa Public Radio to talk about the novel coronavirus and the impact it has had in Iowa.

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Katie Goodale

The College of Public Health is seen on March 11, 2019.

Kelsey Harrell and Caleb McCullough


University of Iowa public-health experts appeared on Iowa Public Radio’s River to River on Friday to discuss the COVID-19 response and preparation going on in Iowa.

UI College of Public Health Dean Edith Parker said everyone needs to follow the recommendations made by public-health experts, even if they’re not the most at-risk populations. 

“My message to [young people] is … even if you are not in that risk category, we ask that you really practice the nonpharmaceutical interventions that the public-health community is suggesting,” Parker said. 

Parker urged people to take measures such as social distancing, frequent hand-washing, avoiding large gatherings, and staying home if you are sick or have symptoms. 

Many people have seen an epidemiological curve, she said, which helps understand a disease outbreak and its spread. Parker said there’s information that if people start taking protective measures, the curve might be flattened and thus slow the transmission of the disease. 

“That’s going to be important both because it gives us time perhaps for the eventual development of a vaccine, but also because it will help us in terms of making sure that the health-care system has a capacity, because there’ll be fewer cases and fewer transmissions,” she said. 

When there are fewer cases, hospitals will have the beds and resources to care for those affected by the disease, Parker said. Hopefully, the precautions and protective measures will help the United States avoid seeing the health-care system become overwhelmed like it has in other countries, she added. 

As a public-health professional, Parker said canceling events with large crowds with people coming from all over the country was a good decision. 

Unlike with Influenza B — which comes annually and has vaccines, and people have some immunity to the disease — COVID-19 is something humans have never seen before, she said. 

RELATED: UI Hospitals and Clinics to open new clinic, conduct video doctor visits amid COVID-19 cases 

UI epidemiology Professor Michael Pentella, the director of the State Hygienic Laboratory, said the lab is a resource for citizens of Iowa to know the testing capacity to quickly identify those with the disease. 

Testing for COVID-19 is available at the State Hygienic Laboratory and commercial-health laboratories, Pentella said. The Iowa Department of Public Health is setting the criteria for patients to meet in order to be tested. 

Once someone is identified as having the virus, they can be isolated and then people with whom they may have come into contact can be tracked down, he said. 

Pentella said the lab has the testing capacity that is needed in Iowa at this time, but moving forward officials will need to consider what the demand will be. 

The number of requests for testing and the number of positive cases being monitored tells how effective intervention actions are, Pentella said. 

“When you come in contact with other individuals who may have a respiratory infection, you’re becoming a risk yourself,” he said, “So that person with the respiratory infection following guidelines will really help preventative efforts. I know it’s inconvenient for people, but this is the time for us to take those kinds of actions to keep our friends and neighbors and community safe.” 

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