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First COVID-19 death reported in Webster County

Victim related to positive Ja-Mar employee

FORT DODGE –Webster County’s first COVID-19 death, confirmed Wednesday, was related to the outbreak first identified with Ja-Mar Drive-In Restaurant employees last Thursday.

Jackie Newton, the first Ja-Mar employee to test positive, confirmed her husband of 33 years, Brent “Ben” Newton, died Wednesday. He was 50.

“He was young,” said Jackie Newton, still hospitalized and fighting the virus herself.

Webster County Public Health confirmed the first death due to COVID-19 in the county Wednesday afternoon, identifying the victim only by age category, before Jackie Newton reached out to The Messenger.

Ben Newton was among 17 other lives claimed by the virus across the state announced Wednesday by the Iowa Department of Public Health, bringing the statewide death toll to 306. But he was more than a number to those who knew him.

The couple was admitted to UnityPoint Health — Trinity Regional Medical Center on May 4. Jackie Newton said she is recovering and may be well enough to be discharged by the end of the week.

For both of them, COVID-19 started after being exposed to their positive daughter with small symptoms they were used to, like runny noses and itchy throats common with their allergies. Then, the symptoms got worse: severe coughing and difficulty breathing.

Ben Newton was eventually intubated so he could breathe. He had been in the intensive care unit since last week, according to his wife. With Ben Newton having been on kidney dialysis for 16 years, in addition to asthma and COPD, she grew concerned that he might not make it after moving to the unit.

Nonetheless, she put on a brave face as they transferred him to the ICU.

“I looked at him and said “You’re gonna be fine,’” Jackie Newton said as she smiled at her husband and told him she loved him. “That’s what we say to each other — ‘You’re gonna be fine.'”

“He smiled at me, and that was it,” she said.

The encounter last week was the last memory they made together. When a code was announced over the loud speaker at the hospital, she knew it was him.

“Code red came on, and it was like, oh my gosh,” Jackie Newton said. “He put up a good fight, but your body can only take so much.”

After a week of intubation and sedation, she said she knew he had had enough.

“I told the doctor, ‘no more, he’s already had too much,'” she said.

Ja-Mar owner Jerry Jordison last announced that Ja-Mar’s closure would extend through May 20, after two additional employees tested positive. He said that all three who tested positive will not be working at the restaurant any time soon as they recover.

The restaurant has a policy of paid leave for those with COVID-19. Jackie Newton has been a faithful employee there for 26 years. Her most recent shift there was May 1.

Webster County Public Health has made contact with everyone who came into contact with infected Ja-Mar employees. Customers were not at risk of infection.

“People need to know that it can hit home,” Jordison told The Messenger Wednesday.

Over two months after the first case in Iowa was announced and seven weeks after the first death in the state, COVID-19 hit home in Fort Dodge with Ben Newton.

“We wish to extend our sympathy to this individual’s family,” said Webster County Public Health Director Kari Prescott. “Webster County Public Health and all of our key partners throughout the county and state continue to work to limit the spread and impact of this virus in our communities. We ask that our residents respect the privacy of this family, and please continue to take preventative measures.”

Webster County now has 12 confirmed cases of COVID-19, up from 11 Tuesday. The cases fall into the following age categories:

• Child (age 0-17): 1

• Adult (age 18-40): 4

• Middle age adult (age 41-60): 4

• Older adult (age 61-80): 3

As of Wednesday, five of the cases have recovered since their diagnosis. A total of 916 people have been tested for COVID-19 in Webster County, about 2.6% of the county’s current estimated population, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH.)

Statewide, 377 more people tested positive, pushing the total to 13,289 Wednesday.

The news comes on the same day that Gov. Kim Reynolds announced that restrictions partially lifted on businesses like restaurants, nonessential retail stores and gyms will be expanded to all 99 counties on Friday. Other establishments that were still mandated to close, like salons and barber shops, will be allowed to reopen Friday.

The IDPH notes that a total of 4,454 people in Webster County have taken an online assessment via Test Iowa, the state’s testing initiative. Assessments do not reflect the number of people who have received a diagnostic test for COVID-19.

Webster County Public Health notifies all people who come into close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19.

Webster County Public Health Department strongly encourages all vulnerable persons, including those with preexisting medical conditions and those older than 65 to limit their activities outside their home, including visits to businesses and other establishments and their participation in gatherings of any size and any purpose. The health department encourages all Webster County residents to limit their in-person interactions with vulnerable persons and to exercise particular care and caution when engaging in any necessary interactions.

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