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No sign virus is spreading in key Iowa county, official says

March 13, 2020 GMT
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, center, speaks during a news conference about an update on the state's response to the new coronavirus outbreak, Friday, March 13, 2020, in Johnston, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
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Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, center, speaks during a news conference about an update on the state's response to the new coronavirus outbreak, Friday, March 13, 2020, in Johnston, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
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Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, center, speaks during a news conference about an update on the state's response to the new coronavirus outbreak, Friday, March 13, 2020, in Johnston, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Officials in Johnson County said Friday that they believe the coronavirus has not spread in the Iowa City area beyond 14 residents who tested positive after a cruise to Egypt.

Johnson County Public Health Director Dave Koch said he has seen no indication of “community spread” in the area. However, he acknowledged that not all of those who were on the Egypt cruise that returned March 2 or a second cruise that was cut short have been tested because testing has been limited to those showing symptoms. Both Egypt cruises were sponsored by a local bank’s rewards club for members 50 and older.

The Iowa Department of Public Health said those from the first cruise make up most of the 17 residents who have tested positive for the virus statewide. Agency statistics show, though, that the results of only 99 tests were known Thursday.

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Gov. Kim Reynolds said during a Friday afternoon news conference that the state had one new case — someone from western Iowa whose illness was related to traveling. She said 10 Iowans who were quarantined on a cruise ship off the coast of Northern California were returning home Friday and the other 10 who were on board will be returning on Saturday.

Reynolds said the state was not calling for schools to close or large gatherings to be banned, but she said residents should be responsible and not go to such events if they’re unwell.

State officials are developing plans with schools, hospitals and others to respond if there’s an indication that the virus is spreading among Iowans, she said.

For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the virus.

Most of those who tested positive in Johnson County are in isolation at their homes, and they and others who were on the cruise are being monitored by public health officials, Koch said.

University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics officials said that they still have only one confirmed coronavirus patient, who was admitted in critical condition earlier this week. Chief medical officer Theresa Brennan said she could not release any more information on that patient.

Brennan said that UIHC is working to develop in-house testing for coronavirus, but that will take time.

UIHC CEO Suresh Gunasekeran said the hospital is limiting the number of visitors for patients and would not allow any who show signs of sickness. He said the hospital has also launched a new video service for providers to see patients who have flu symptoms or other concerns.

Organizers of large events continued to face judgment calls about whether to cancel them.

The Iowa Democratic Party announced that it would postpone its county conventions that were scheduled for March 21 to pick delegates to the state convention. But the Republican Party of Iowa said that its county conventions scheduled for Saturday would go forward as planned.