COVID-19 reaches Sioux County, Iowa Original

SIOUX COUNTY, IOWA (KELO) — Sioux County, Iowa, has about 35,000 residents, at least 50 churches, two universities, rich Dutch heritage, a town festival focused on tulips and now it has COVID-19.

The Iowa Department of Health said the county has two confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of March 27. The first case was confirmed on March 22. The second was confirmed on March 26. Although the person infected in the second case hadn’t been in the county in the past 15 days, the person is still one of the county’s own.

Earl Woudstra, the city manager for Orange City, said the area learned of at least one of the cases through social media.

Word can travel fast in a small community, Woudstra said. When it’s a rumor that’s not good.

In other cases, true words traveling fast can bring a community closer together, he said.

One of Orange City’s park areas. The city is known for celebrating its Dutch heritage. Photo courtesy of the City of Orange City’s website.

Residents in Orange City have a deep Christian faith, Woudstra said.

“The community will uphold the individual in prayer for recovery and health…,” if it learns someone is ill, he said.

There are lots of outward signs of faith in the county. Churches, many of them associated with a variation of the Reformed church background, are listed on websites. A church is often located every several city blocks. Many businesses are closed on Sunday because it’s church day.

Sioux Center, about 11 miles north of Orange City, has at least 13 churches including those with denominations other than Reformed, city manager Scott Wynja said.

“We are very much a faith-based community,” Wynja said.

Communicating with a changing public

While churches are a conduit of faith in communities, Wynja said they’ve been a valuable resource as Sioux Center responds to COVID-19.

City officials are communicating with church officials and the local ministerial association to help share information about COVID-19 and COVID-19 response, Wynja said.

Construction on a recent extension to a trail system in Sioux Center, Iowa. Photo courtesy of the City of Sioux Center’s website.

Finding ways to communicate with the public is important.

Sioux Center has grown since the 2010 Census.

“We’ve grown at a faster pace than the rest of the county,” Wynja said. Hispanic minorities, including those from Guatemala make up the largest percentage of growth, he said.

The city’s estimated population in 2018 was 7,614 with 10.5% as Latino or Hispanic, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The 2010 population was 7,048.

The county’s population grew from 2010’s 33,704 to an estimated 34,885 in 2019. An estimated 11.1% of the population is Latino or Hispanic.

Communicating with those residents whose first language isn’t English is important.

Wynja said the city has reached out to minority business owners to help distribute information and to make sure those businesses know about options such as Small Business Administration programs.

“We have Mexican grocery stores and they can operate the same as Fareway or Hy Vee,” Wynja said of information that minority business owners need.

Doing business on a different main street

Living with a COVID-19 pandemic was difficult but with two confirmed cases in the county, it’s even more so, said Marie Hofmeyer, owner of Holland House in Orange City.

Holland House offers home decorating, interior design, clothing and accessories.

A portion of Orange City’s business district. Photo courtesy of the City of Orange City’s website.

Hofmeyer said when she hears and reads news about concerns of running out of hospital beds, respirators and other protective equipment, she’s more inclined to ask herself, “Will that ever happen to us?”

She has friends and relatives with autoimmune disorders and lung problems. She wants them to be safe.

“Is everybody taking it as seriously as they need to?” Hofmeyer said.

She is trying her best and she thinks the community is too.

Hofmeyer has one employee working in a closed storefront who is packing up and delivering orders with no contact.

“We’ve seen an amazing outpouring of support from the local community,” Hofmeyer said. The local support comes from within 30 miles of Orange City.

The Orange City Chamber of Commerce has been actively promoting a plan to encourage residents to support local businesses.

Shoppers who keep receipts from local stores and when they spend $100, they can receive $10 from the chamber for use at local businesses, chamber director Mike Hofman said.

“Our initial fund was $85,000 and we’re trying to get to $100,000,” Hofman said of the $10 reward.

The project would generate an estimated $1.1 million in the local business community, Hofman said.

Hofmeyer said she was business inspired recently while washing dishes at her kitchen sink. Between the stress created by COVID-19 and trying to help her kids with assigned school work while schools are closed, she needed something bright.

She was inspired to brighten up spots in her home.

Now, Hofmeyer is sharing ideas to brighten spots in the home including at the kitchen sink.

She said she isn’t using frivolous items but items that buyers will want long after COVID-19.

One design includes bright soaps, since hand washing is an extreme point of emphasis now, Hofmeyer said.

No church on Sunday, at least in the sanctuary

Woudstra described Orange City as one in which many residents live in “hope and trust in God.”

First Reformed Church on a Sunday when the congregation could gather in the church. The church does not meet in the sanctuary because of COVID-19. Messages are shared through alternative means to keep congregation members and attendees and the community safer, a church official said. Photo courtesy of the church’s website

The way that’s physically practiced these days is different.

First Reformed Church in Orange City is what Barry Brandt calls the fifth phase of COVID-19 response.

The phase includes no inside church on Sunday and no inside church activities. Brandt is the executive director of operations for the church. The church has followed directions from the governor and federal, state and local health officials for several weeks, Brandt said.

The church’s 15 full-time and part-time employees work in staggered shifts and most have offices throughout the church so social distancing is not a problem, Brandt said.

While social distancing is practiced, spiritual distancing is not.

The church provides devotional and worship material through its website, on the local cable TV channel and other means.

“If we just disappear as a church, first of all, shame on us (if disappears), that would not be good practice,” Brandt said.

The staff is making sure it reaches out to members and attendees to check on needs. The church is also providing materials for all ages in the church including reminding high schoolers and middle schoolers this is a good time to call or write their grandparents, Brandt said.

Not only do people need the chance to worship and participate in their faith, they also need to continue the practice of attending church, Brandt said.

For now, that will mean attending church through their phone, computer, TV or another alternate means, he said.

What about those tulips?

Some of Hofmeyer’s decorating ideas incorporate tulips, a popular flower in Sioux County.

Tulips may grow in Sioux County by the tens of thousands, particularly in Orange City. The city has an annual Tulip Festival each May.

Photo courtesy of Orange City Tulip Festival website and city of Orange City.

The annual festival draws attendees from across the country, Woudstra said.

It also brings many back home to Orange City. “It’s a reunion time of sorts,” Woudstra said.

“We haven’t made a final decision yet,” Woudstra said. The local committee is aware tulip festivals have been called off in Holland, Michigan, and Pella, Iowa, he said.

The annual festival is on a wait and see mode, Woudstra said.

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