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With Colder Weather, Challenges To Slow Spread Of COVID-19 Will Grow

Whitney Selix, the owner of Lua Brewery in Des Moines, says the business she started with her husband has survived the pandemic thanks in part to a large patio area.
Natalie Krebs
Whitney Selix, the owner of Lua Brewery in Des Moines, says the business she started with her husband has survived the pandemic thanks in part to a large patio area.

Iowa saw its first snowfall this week. And with this winter weather will come an added layer of challenges for battling COVID-19, as Iowa prepares for respiratory virus season during a pandemic.

Whitney Selix said so far, Lua Brewery in Des Moines, which she started with her husband a year ago, is surviving the pandemic.

That’s thanks in part to the way they designed it. A large set of garage doors opens the indoor dining area into a generous patio that flows into the parking lot. Customers enjoy drinks outdoors in the crisp fall weather, properly spaced apart.

"The garage doors were always part of the plan and we are so thankful that ... they are at this point because I think it makes people feel a lot safer. You know, having that open airflow," she said.

But Selix said she’s not so sure about winter. In the era of COVID-19, she knows closing those garage doors and cramming in people wall to wall, like they did last year, is not an option.

"I’m nervous for sure," she said. "I mean we're, you know, drastically cutting back on costs, just in preparation for a slower season."

Selix isn’t the only one concerned about what will happen when COVID-19 meets the Midwestern winter.

"So we have to be very, very careful and vigilant as we enter this winter season," said Ali Mokdad, an epidemiologist with the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.

His model for Iowa projects daily case counts and deaths will further increase starting in early November.

Natalie Krebs
Lua Brewery in Des Moines has fared well during the pandemic. It has two large garage doors that open the indoor dining area into a large patio, allowing people to properly socially distance.

Mokdad says that’s because the cold weather will drive people indoors where the virus can easily spread.

"What we have seen is people are more likely to let down their guard indoors. They take off their mask and they become closer to each other," he said.

Iowa is already in a vulnerable position with winter on the horizon. Daily case counts have been trending upward for weeks. Hospitalizations are at a record high. Public health experts have urged state leaders to increase mitigation efforts.

But Gov. Kim Reynolds says she currentlyhas no plans to issue additional restrictions. At a press conference this month, she said the state’s healthcare system can handle a greater number of cases.

"We've not approached the peak of our hospital capacity, our health, our health care system in Iowa is strong. And for that we are grateful," she said.

Brent Willet, the president of the Iowa Health Care Association, which represents most of the state’s nursing homes, said the state’s long term care residents, who have been some of the hardest hit by the pandemic, will be relying on the strength of this system this winter.

Willet said it will be impossible to keep the virus out of facilities this winter.

"We need to be extraordinarily vigilant about infection control in the building," he said, "and we need to be extraordinarily vigilant about screening anyone that's gaining access into the building for any reason."

Willet said his biggest concern going into winter is funding testing to screen for the virus. He said Iowa’s nursing homes don’t have enough government support beyond December.

"Our providers are conducting 35,000 tests a week, right now, he said. "And those tests cost $75 apiece, when we're going on the open market. So we're incurring millions of dollars of additional cost to fight this battle."

University of Washington Epidemiologist Ali Mokdad also says this testing is crucial to tracking the spread of the virus this winter, but so is prevention, doing things like wearing masks, and being really careful about who you see.

"Unfortunately, this virus is very stubborn, very opportunistic. If we make a mistake, this virus is going to, you know, win and start spreading," he said.

But he says this doesn’t mean family holiday parties should be cancelled. Participants will just need to quarantine 14 days ahead of time. And Mokdad says those with severe quarantine fatigue can create a social bubble with a few close friends.

At Lua Brewery, Selix says she’s just hoping Iowans will be able to adapt to some European habits this winter, like using patios year round.

"They're always out there, they'll cover up in blankets and they'll be bundled. And they'll just smoke their cigarettes and drink their wine and beer. And I think it's awesome," she said. "And I just like, maybe we can just do that, too here. Because we’ll be forced to this year."

Selix said that’s the only way her brewery will get through the tough winter months.

Natalie Krebs is IPR's Health Reporter