At least 85 residents and workers at state-run facilities have tested positive for COVID-19

Dozens of residents in state-run care facilities have tested positive for COVIOD-19. (Creative Commons photo via Pxhere.com)

At least 85 residents and workers at state-run care facilities have tested positive for COVID-19.

The Iowa Department of Human Services said 34 residents and 51 staffers at the six facilities have tested positive since the beginning of the pandemic. Of those, 22 of the residents and 34 of the staffers have recovered.

The first resident to be confirmed COVID-19 positive at any of six facilities run by the Iowa Department of Human Services was at the Woodward Resource Center for the disabled, and that happened on May 1. Five days later, two staff members at the facility tested positive as did another resident. On June 12, six additional residents and seven additional staff tested positive at Woodward.

The department says that to protect other residents at Woodward, those who test positive have been moved to another house, designated for positive cases, on the Woodward campus.

At the Boys State Training School in Eldora, a staff member tested positive on July 20. The next day, two more workers tested positive. On July 22, another worker tested positive, and the day after that, the fist student-resident of the school tested positive.

In a written summary of its action, DHS official say they have “deep cleaned and disinfected the cottages” at the Eldora facility. Students are being “offered” masks and nurses are explaining the importance of the masks and additional hygiene measures. There are now 11 Eldora workers and 12 students who have tested positive.

In March, Disability Rights Iowa and Drake University’s Center for Children’s Rights wrote to Gov. Kim Reynolds and Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Susan Christensen to share concerns about the safety of Iowa youth now living in detention facilities, group care and the Eldora home.

At the time, they said the state had yet to provide children in state care the same sort of protective measures now used by the Iowa Department of Corrections to protect adult criminal offenders housed in prisons.

The advocacy groups argued that youth in congregate living are not able to protect themselves through social distancing, frequent hand washing, or remaining in sanitized locations. They asked Reynolds and Christensen to limit new admissions to the facilities and immediately discharge those on the verge of being released.

The Iowa Department of Human Services responded by saying it had put in place “robust mitigation strategies” to reduce the risk posed by COVID-19 at Eldora, but had yet to test any of the youth there.

As of last week, DHS described its actions at the Eldora facility as including testing; the segregation of students who test positive; offering of masks for students to wear; and a ban on the re-use of personal protective equipment. Also, on-campus visits have been suspended. On Tuesday, DHS said it had temporarily suspended admissions at Eldora.

Here’s a look at the total number of infections, to date, for each of the six DHS-run facilities:

Boys State Training School:  23 cases

Woodward Resource Center: 53 cases

Glenwood Resource Center: 5 cases (all are staff)

Civil Commitment Unit for Sex Offenders: 2 cases (both are staff)

Cherokee Mental Health Institute: 1 case (staff)

Independence Mental Health Institute: 1 case (staff)

Clark Kauffman
Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.