Message from our CEO and Audubon County Medical Incident Commander

From Suzanne Cooner, CEO of Audubon County Memorial Hospital and Clinics and the Medical Incident Commander of the Audubon County Emergency Operations Center.

As you know we are facing a global crisis, the likes of which most of us have not seen in our lifetime – COVID-19. I never imagined even a worst-case scenario in which I would be coming before a community to plead for you to take the actions I am going to ask of you now.

While we hope for the best, we need to prepare for the hard reality of what may lie ahead. It would be easy to say we are not a large city like New York who has experienced overwhelming devastation and loss of life. We are fortunate that we have a small population. We have a stronger ability to pull together to prevent the devastation simply due to our size. Although Iowa has not experienced the level of loss other states have, it’s just a matter of time. Make no mistake about it, this virus does not discriminate on the size of your community. This is the calm before the storm.

While I have no power to make you do anything, I am pleading with you to do the right thing and do it fast. If you think it won’t infect you, you are wrong. If you think that if you don’t have symptoms you could not be spreading it, you are wrong. If you think your family and friends won’t die from it, you might be wrong. Do you want to take that chance?

Compared to our Iowa neighbors it may appear that we’re doing fine, and we’ll probably escape the fate of others. We’ve tested over a dozen people and only one positive so far. This is misleading and may give a false sense of security that it is not in our county. There are Audubon County citizens who have called with symptoms of possible COVID-19 who did not meet the strict criteria for testing that have been instructed to go home and self-isolate with specific instructions from our healthcare team. We check on them frequently and most have gotten better.

We are all being called upon as Audubon County citizens to do our part to keep each other safe. Keep you and your family home or in the yard whenever possible. If you want to take a walk around the community, do so by keeping your distance from those outside your immediate family circle. If your friend or family member doesn’t live with you (in your house), you should not be within 6 feet of them. This means you don’t go to each other’s house. Your kids don’t meet up somewhere to hang out. And you don’t go to the store for every little thing you need. When you absolutely can’t go another day because you are out of something then one person in the family goes but follows the rules that I will share with you below. Social distancing is the only method we have right now to help reduce the spread of this terrible virus. Maybe you get the virus and you barely have symptoms, but you give it to someone who dies. You don’t have to have underlying medical conditions to die from this.

The good news is that as your community hospital we do have a lot in place already. Along with our community partners we have been preparing non-stop. We have surge plans ready to take care of more patients with more serious illness should it be needed. We have 5 ventilators and staff have been training to care for patients we would normally transfer to larger hospitals. Those hospitals will most likely not be able to take our added volume. Our strength is that the hospital and our community partners are now working as one team. We continue to work closely with the County’s Emergency Management to get more protective equipment for our healthcare workers and first responders. We are humbled by the donations from many community members that care enough to keep our frontline workers safe. We have pulled our resources together to prepare for an intense medical crisis, the likes of which we have never seen. We are working as quickly as we can but we need you to do your part so we can do ours.

I am calling on you, as an Audubon County citizen to help change the course of what lies ahead. We must support the frontline first. This includes all healthcare workers, first responders, and law enforcement. The protection of our nursing facilities is critical to protect some of our most vulnerable. Our essential businesses that keep our basic infrastructure going such as grocery stores, gas stations, trucking, mail carriers, banks, farm services, vet clinics, and pharmacies are all necessary and on the frontline. They must be protected as well. Businesses in our community that are taking this seriously are to be supported and thanked. What they are doing will make the difference between an overwhelmed hospital and one that can sufficiently take care of all of those who need care.

Based on what is currently understood about the virus:

  • Most are infected by sustained contact with individuals who have this disease.
  • Vast majority of transmission is from family members. People who are exposed to the public for sustained periods of time are most at risk.
  • It is transmitted primarily by contact with infectious material such as respiratory droplets. Almost exclusively from hands to face (Eyes, nose, mouth).
  • The most common symptoms are fever, cough, shortness of breath and may progress to pneumonia and respiratory failure. Sometimes the first sign is you lose sense of smell and taste.
  • For 80% you just don’t feel good. You have a mild cough and headache that lasts generally about 5 -7 days.

You can protect yourself and your family by following four simple rules:

  • Keep your hands clean. Walk around with hand sanitizer. If you touch things, use sanitizer or wash your hands. Sanitize the handle of a grocery cart. Handwashing with soap and water for 20 seconds is the most effective.
  • You must psychologically work on not touching your face with unclean hands. The idea behind wearing the mask is to keep you from touching your face and to keep someone from spreading their germs on you if they cough or sneeze. Wearing gloves adds no value. The minute you touch something the gloves become as contaminated as your hands.
  • When you leave your house, wear a mask when you are around people. Please save N-95 masks for frontline healthcare workers and first responders who need will need them. The general public has zero need for N-95.
  • Distance yourself from people. Keep your 6 ft distance.

If you have the following symptoms, seek medical attention but call first (Hospital 24/7 Call Center is 712-563-5236).

  • Shortness of breath
    Persistent pain or pressure in chest
    New confusion or inability to arouse
    Bluish lips or face

This list is not all inclusive. Please call your healthcare provider for any symptoms that are severe or concerning. Follow the healthcare provider’s instructions.

We are learning more and more each day about this virus. Please refer to the CDC guidelines on their website for the most up-to-date information. Audubon County Memorial Hospital and Clinics will continue to post updated information on its website at and our Facebook page.

We don’t know when life will get back to some sense of normalcy. What we do know is that if we don’t take this extreme action now it will take much longer. Our businesses are all suffering. We must act quickly as a community or the consequences could be devastating to all of us.