Frequently Asked Questions

COVID-19 Basics

What is COVID-19 (coronavirus)?

COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by a novel (new) coronavirus that was first detected in China and has now been detected internationally, including the United States, and Iowa. Community spread has been confirmed throughout Black Hawk County.

How does COVID-19 spread?

From person-to-person by respiratory droplets, similar to seasonal flu. Respiratory droplets are droplets produced when someone coughs or sneezes that can contain the virus. The virus spreads when droplets get into a person's mouth, nose, or eyes. People are considered contagious from 2 days before symptom onset until 10 days after, although people can continue to be contagious after 10 days. Spread is more likely when people are in prolonged close contact with one another (within about 6 feet for at least 15 minutes).

What should I do if I am ill (isolation guidelines)?

It is important that if you are ill with a fever or respiratory symptoms (cough or difficulty breathing) that you remain home and isolate from others in the home. You should remain isolated at home until:

  • It has been 5 days since your symptoms began. You may wear a mask in public for days 6-10
  • You have had no fever for at least 24 hours (without the use of fever reducing medication) AND
  • other symptoms have improved (for example, when your cough or shortness of breath have improved)
  • If you are unable to wear a mask in public, you should stay at home for the full 10 days

These are recommendations that all Iowans ill with symptoms of COVID-19 should follow regardless of whether or not they have been tested for COVID-19.

Anyone can get a test through their healthcare provider or a pharmacy. Iowans are able to order or pick up a free test through Test Iowa ( Everyone is also eligible to order 4 free rapid test kits to be shipped to their home through the federal government (

Patients who have severe symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, should seek care immediately, and should call their health care provider before going in to be seen. Older patients and individuals who have underlying medical conditions or are immunocompromised should contact their health care provider early, even for mild illnesses.

What should I do if someone in my home is ill?

If you are unvaccinated, less than 2 weeks out from your primary vaccination series, greater than 5 months from a Pfizer or Moderna series, or greater than 2 months from a Johnson and Johnson vaccine:  

  • If someone in your immediate household is ill with COVID-19 symptoms, you should stay home and isolate away from the person who is ill.  When you are home, wear a face covering if you need to be around them, regularly clean particularly high touch or shared services, and use separate bathrooms if possible.  You should remain home until your household member has received a negative test result or has been told they do not have COVID-19 by a health care provider.  If your household member tests positive, you should quarantine at home. Quarantine may end after day 5 if you have not developed any symptoms following exposure, you continue to monitor for symptoms for the full 10 days after exposure, and you wear a face covering when outside of the home for the full 10 days after exposure.  It is recommended that you get tested at day 5 of quarantine.
  • If at any time after ending quarantine you develop symptoms of COVID-19, you must start isolating at home immediately, and get tested

If you are able to isolate away from each other in the home, then the last time you were in close contact would be the day you started isolating away from the person who is ill. If you are not able to isolate at home then the last time you are in close contact is not until the day the ill person no longer needs to isolate (5 days after onset of symptoms or day of positive test, and 24 hours fever free, and symptoms improving).

If you have received any booster shot, are less than 5 months out from a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine series, less than 2 months out from a Johnson and Johnson vaccine, or have tested positive for COVID-19 within the last 3 months:

  • You do not need to quarantine unless you start to develop symptoms.  It is recommended you get tested 5 days after exposure and continue to wear a mask for 10 days in public.  Clean frequently touched or shared surfaces in the home and use separate bathrooms if possible.

Who is considered exposed to someone with COVID-19?

People in the following situations should consider themselves exposed to COVID-19:

  • Those who were within 6 feet of someone who has COVID-19 for 15 consecutive minutes or more over 24 hours
  • Those who live with someone who has symptoms of COVID-19 (fever or respiratory symptoms) or has tested positive for COVID-19
  • Those who provided care at home to someone who is sick with COVID-19
  • Those who had direct physical contact with someone who has COVID-19 (hugged or kissed them)
  • A person with COVID-19 sneezed, coughed, or somehow got respiratory droplets on you

Refer to the previous question regarding quarantine guidelines to determine if you need to quarantine at home.

Why did the isolation and quarantine guidance change from 10 days to 5?

Data has shown that people are more infectious during the early part of their illness, so the time a person is expected to remain at home due to exposure or infection was reduced.  These guidelines do not affect healthcare personnel and do not supersede state or local laws or regulations.

How are you reporting COVID-19 data?

To more accurately reflect the data our team is monitoring, we will be publishing PCR and antigen positive cases, along with the number of hospitalized patients, recovered cases, and deaths. As testing becomes more widely available, we want to provide the public with more data since these numbers are widely circulated on social media. These numbers are found on the banner on the top of this website and are posted during the week on our Facebook page.

Why is there a discrepancy in numbers from State to County?

In an effort to publish the most up to date information on local numbers, the Black Hawk County Department of Health reports COVID-19 cases as they become available. The Black Hawk County Department of Health reported cases include positive PCR tests, positive antigen tests, and symptomatic close contacts of cases. As a result, the county’s data may differ from the state’s reported cases.

Some Important Definitions:

  • PCR test: A positive PCR test indicates an ongoing infection. This test has to be processed in a lab and takes about 1-2 days for the results to come back. It is considered the "gold standard" for COVID-19 testing.
  • Antigen test: An antigen test is sometimes called a "rapid test." It also identifies active infection and is found in some home test kits.
  • Symptomatic close contact: A person that is exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 and is a close contact to a person that tested positive for COVID-19. Close contacts are identified by the health department through case investigations.