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Muscatine's Jefferson Elementary teachers help spread school spirit during the COVID-19 closure

MUSCATINE — Monday afternoon was filled with honks, smiles and school spirit — all thanks to the teachers at Jefferson Elementary.

Earlier this week, 35 staff members at Jefferson held what they called a “Jefferson Jamboree.”

Maria Sneath, a gifted and talented specialist-teacher who has worked at Jefferson for five years, came up with the idea after she was inspired by a story she had seen on the news.

“I saw that in a town they celebrated a little boy’s birthday this way,” she said, “so I thought it would be really cool to adapt it and go see our families around the Jefferson area.”

Sneath sent out an email to her fellow faculty members and before long it became a chain over 100 emails, filled with enthusiastic replies and people wanting to help.

“Everyone was really excited," she said. "We’re a big Jefferson family and we all really wanted to go see everyone.”

She also considered it a good way to keep social distance while still having a personal connection.

Muscatine schools are closed for four weeks as part of the statewide initiative to slow the spread of COVID-19. Normally, Jefferson would be in class this week, but without that, Sneath was missing her students.

Dr. Kandy Steel, Jefferson Elementary’s principal, agreed with this sentiment: “This is just as hard on teachers as it is on kids.”

Steel followed up at the rear of the 35-car Jamboree.

“I think I got lost a couple times, but it wasn’t hard to find, given that there were so many cars," she said.

The cars, driven by teachers, were decked out with balloons or streamers and homemade signs that said things like “We miss you!”, “We’ll see you soon” and other statements of encouragement and love for their students. Together, they drove around the area surrounding Jefferson Elementary, honking their horns and waving at the students as they passed by.

“The students came out and waved at us, though some of them stayed inside and waved through the window,” Sneath said. “It was just great seeing all the families.”

“I just think Maria provides a lot of really wonderful leadership for our kids and community, and I was really proud of her for thinking about the needs of the kids and for bringing people together," Steel said.

While there are no plans for a second Jamboree, the teachers at Jefferson continue to spread school spirit, even as the school’s doors remained closed.

Third grade teacher Brenda Todd created a virtual spirit week, which will take place next week on the Jefferson Elementary Facebook page.

Jefferson families are asked to share photos of themselves participating in the various theme days, such as Pajama Day, Book Day and Pet Day.

“We’re really excited,” Steel said. “We’re providing a lot of fun things that people can join in on.”

While Sneath misses seeing her students this week, she says that she’s taking it one day at a time.

“We just want (our students) to know that we miss them too and that we can’t wait to be back in school and back to learning," Sneath said. "We just want them to stay safe and healthy, and we’ll be back together soon.”

“We know that we’ll catch kids up, that’s what educators do,” Steel said, acknowledging that the Muscatine school district currently has no extended learning plans in place. “But right now, I think it’s just really fun for families to be together during this time. I’m sure kids are really frightened about what’s going on, so just to be able to provide a lot of emotional care and support for kids at this time is just the most important thing we can do.”

breaking topical
Despite additional cases, Quad-Cities health officials salute progress

Rock Island County added one additional positive test and Scott County two Wednesday, according to both counties' health departments. 

A woman in her 40s has tested positive for COVID-19 and is the third official case in Rock Island County. She is self-isolating at home. 

"Some people will have mild to moderate illness and will not need to be hospitalized and seek medical care," Nita Ludwig, administrator with the Rock Island County Health Department, said. They can also isolate at home, she said.

Statewide, the Illinois Department of Health (IDPH) Wednesday announced 330 new cases of COVID-19 in Illinois, including three deaths: a Kane County man in his 90s, a Cook County man in his 60s, and a Will County woman in her 50s.

Douglas, Marshall and Morgan counties are now reporting cases. Currently, IDPH is reporting a total of 1,865 cases in 35 counties in Illinois. The age of cases ranges from younger than 1 to 99 years.

In Scott County, two additional cases have been confirmed. Both are between the ages of 41 and 60 and are hospitalized. 

Muscatine County had another case confirmed Wednesday for a total of six. Authorities said only that the person is between the ages of 18 and 40.

The Iowa Department of Public Health has been notified of 21 additional positive cases of Iowans with COVID-19, for a total of 145 positive cases. There have been a total of 2,575 negative tests to date, which includes testing reported by the State Hygienic Lab and other labs.

"We expect to see the number of confirmed cases increase in the community as testing becomes readily available and the virus becomes more widespread in the community," said Ed Rivers, director of the Scott County Health Department.

“Our growing number of cases proves that COVID-19 is circulating widely in the Quad Cities,” Ludwig said. “This third case is a younger person who is able to isolate at home.

"About 80% of COVID-19 infections are mild to moderate and may not require medical attention.”

Rivers shared a similar statement.

"We must act together to do what we can to minimize the spread," he added.

There is not a whole lot new regarding the spread, said Dr.  Louis Katz, medical director with the Scott County Health Department.

"Droplets and contact appear to be the overwhelmingly predominant mode," he said.

Katz noted that when he examines social distancing in places like Korea, China, Hong Kong and Singapore, where stringent social distancing policies were implemented, it helped them flatten their curves in terms of the spread. "It would appear to me that that's reasonable evidence that strict social distancing is probably an effective approach."

Progress has been seen recently because of stronger practicing of social distancing in Italy and even New York, he added.

"I am quite confident that social distancing is the right approach to take," he said. 

He also praised Scott County residents for paying attention to the guidelines on social distancing. 

Other highlights of Wednesday's press conference by the health departments included:

  • Admitting there are not enough tests at this time for the area. However, there might be in two to four weeks. "It is absolutely true that our testing capacity is not where we would like it to be," Katz said. 
  • There are enough hospital beds in the area, currently.
  • The public has greatly responded to the potential blood shortage by donating.

Health officials once again stated ways to prevent spread of COVID-19, including:

  • Social distancing by staying at home as much as possible.
  • Keeping at least 6 feet between you and anyone else.
  • Washing your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds each time and using hand sanitizer when washing your hands is not possible.
  • Covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your elbow.
  • Staying home when you are ill.

 “We must follow medical and public health advice to reduce a sudden rise in infections — called flattening the curve. Stay home when you are sick and do your part,” Ludwig said.

Officials remind the public to call ahead to their provider and make sure they follow protocol before coming in to the office or a mobile test site.

Dave Chesling, Muscatine Journal 

Zoey Long of Muscatine brings the ball up the court during the second quarter of a game against Bettendorf in Muscatine on Feb. 11, 2020. Long scored 27 points in the Muskies' 49-45 victory.

Region to continue funding services during COVID-19 crisis

DAVENPORT — The Eastern Iowa Mental Health and Disability Region board voted unanimously Wednesday to continue paying for services from the Robert Young Center even though those services have been modified to meet state and federal guidelines to ensure worker safety and to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

During a special meeting held over the phone, the board learned from region CEO Lori Elam that the services were still operating in all counties but measures have been taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Some of the services have gone to televised consultations. Elam said the Robert Young Center had reported the changes and she felt it was a board decision on whether to continue funding the services.

“All of the providers are up and running, but to various degrees,” said Mary Peterson, director of behavioral health services for UnityPoint Health/Robert Young Center. “It’s important the board know all these agencies made modifications to the services based on recommendations from CDC as well as the state of Iowa and the governor’s direction.”

Peterson showed a chart breaking down the impact of COVID-19 into categories, including 24/7 crisis services, chair coordination services, peer services and crisis residential services. She said the center recommends the board continues to pay the services, even though they weren’t delivering the care in the manner in which the system was designed.

She assured the board the providers are delivering care to the best of their abilities. She also mentioned that, after reviewing the contracts, the region could file for breach of contract because the services were not being provided face-to-face.

Many of the board members commented that the center was doing its best to honor the contracts and provide the services it had been contracted to provide given the circumstances.

Board chair Ken Beck wanted to ensure the providers currently not working were remaining productive in other areas. Peterson showed that the providers were still providing services. She said there was a great change, and work is done differently in that the time used to either transfer a patient or for a provider to drive to different areas was now being replaced with calls.

“People have a better chance now of going into crisis because of loss of jobs and other things,” board member Jim Irwin said. He asked if everyone was trained to deliver services over the phone as well as in person. Peterson said they have been and have always reached out to people on the phone, but that was now being expanded.

Board member Dawn Smith asked to make sure that crisis service could be accessed through a smartphone. Peterson said it could.

Peterson said the initial feedback she had received about the changes had been positive in that people seeking services were able to access them from home and still get support.

Irwin commented that most of the services are still being provided, only in a different format.

“Every provider in the Eastern Iowa crisis system is trying their best to adapt and to learn new methods to take care of the community,” Peterson said.

In the cases of 24/7 crisis services, little change was reported except the suspension of face-to-face mobile crisis services, which have been replaced with teleconferencing.

The peer centers in Muscatine and Clinton counties have converted to virtual operation. The peer center in Scott County is remaining open, utilizing social distancing. The crisis residential is still open, and the residential in Clinton County is also still open.

The Robert Young Center and Bridgeview Center have suspended all face-to-face sessions and interaction inside the jails and switched to telephone care.

Senate passes rescue package

WASHINGTON — The Senate late Wednesday passed an unparalleled $2.2 trillion economic rescue package steering aid to businesses, workers and health care systems engulfed by the coronavirus pandemic.

The unanimous vote came despite misgivings on both sides about whether it goes too far or not far enough and capped days of difficult negotiations as Washington confronted a national challenge unlike it has ever faced.

The 880-page measure is the largest economic relief bill in U.S. history. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., appeared somber and exhausted as he announced the vote — and he released senators from Washington until April 20, though he promised to recall them if needed.

"The legislation now before us now is historic because it is meant to match a historic crisis," said Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. "Our health care system is not prepared to care for the sick. Our workers are without work. Our businesses cannot do business. Our factories lie idle. The gears of the American economy have ground to a halt."

The package is intended as relief for an economy spiraling into recession or worse and a nation facing a grim toll from an infection that's killed nearly 20,000 people worldwide. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, asked how long the aid would keep the economy afloat, said: "We've anticipated three months. Hopefully, we won't need this for three months."

Underscoring the effort's sheer magnitude, the bill finances a response with a price tag that equals half the size of the entire $4 trillion annual federal budget.

Insistently optimistic, President Donald Trump said of the greatest public-health emergency in anyone's lifetime, "I don't think its going to end up being such a rough patch" and anticipated the economy soaring "like a rocket ship" when it's over.

The drive by leaders to speed the bill through the Senate was slowed as four conservative Republican senators from states whose economies are dominated by low-wage jobs demanded changes, saying the legislation as written might give workers like store clerks incentives to stay on unemployment instead of returning to their jobs since they may earn more money if they're laid off than if they're working. They settled for a failed vote to modify the provision.

Other objections floated in from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has become a prominent Democrat on the national scene as the country battles the pandemic. Cuomo, whose state has seen more deaths from the pandemic than any other, said, "I'm telling you, these numbers don't work."

Cuomo said the Senate package would send less than $4 billion to New York, far short of his estimate that the crisis will cost his state up to $15 billion over the next year. More than 280 New Yorkers have died from the virus, a death toll more than double that of any other state.

Still, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the need for more money for New York is “no reason to stop the step we are taking.”

Meanwhile, New York authorities mobilized to head off a potential public health disaster in the city Wednesday as U.S. deaths from the pandemic topped 1,000.

A makeshift morgue was set up outside Bellevue Hospital, and the city's police, their ranks dwindling as more fall ill, were told to patrol nearly empty streets to enforce social distancing. Public health officials hunted down beds and medical equipment and put out a call for more doctors and nurses for fear the number of sick will explode in a matter of weeks.

Ardent liberals were restless about the bill, but top Washington Democrats assured them that additional coronavirus legislation will follow this spring and signaled that delaying the pending measure would be foolish.

The sprawling measure is the third coronavirus response bill produced by Congress and by far the largest. It builds on efforts focused on vaccines and emergency response, sick and family medical leave for workers, and food aid.

Pelosi swung behind the bipartisan agreement, saying it "takes us a long way down the road in meeting the needs of the American people."

Senate passage delivered the legislation to the Democratic-controlled House, which will most likely pass it Friday. House members are scattered around the country and the timetable for votes in that chamber was unclear.

House Democratic and Republican leaders have hoped to clear the measure for Trump's signature by a voice vote without having to call lawmakers back to Washington.

The package would give direct payments to most Americans, expand unemployment benefits and provide a $367 billion program for small businesses to keep making payroll while workers are forced to stay home.

It includes a controversial, heavily negotiated $500 billion program for guaranteed, subsidized loans to larger industries, including airlines. Hospitals would get significant help as well.

The bill would provide one-time direct payments to Americans of $1,200 per adult making up to $75,000 a year, and $2,400 to a married couple making up to $150,000, with $500 payments per child.

A huge cash infusion for hospitals expecting a flood of COVID-19 patients grew during the talks to an estimated $130 billion. Another $45 billion would fund additional relief through the Federal Emergency Management Agency for local response efforts and community services.