WEST UNION — The health care provider that Fayette County contracts with for public health services, is urging people to do more to control the spread of COVID-19, which is accelerating in northeast Iowa.

The Gundersen Health System says the COVID-19 pandemic “has breached emergency levels” in its service areas, says a news release issued Thursday by Jamie Hoey, of Gundersen Palmer Lutheran Hospitals and Clinics in West Union and spokesperson for Fayette County Public Health. “Cases are surging, hospital capacity and staffing levels are stressed and patients are losing their battle against the virus.”

Fayette County’s cumulative total of positive COVID-19 cases since March reached 893 by Thursday morning, an increase of more than 300 since Nov. 1, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health. Eight deaths have been confirmed.

“Who to care for, who gets the resources that they need to survive — those are extremely difficult decisions to make and ones we want to avoid,” said Gundersen Health System Chief Executive Officer Scott Rathgaber, MD. “We are prepared to make them if we have to, but this is the time to act so we do not have to make these very difficult, tragic decisions.”

Gundersen infectious disease experts caution the public against leaving home except for work, necessities and medical care. To protect your family and our communities, Gundersen recommends holiday gatherings are limited only to household members to reduce the spread of the virus.

The news release says not practicing proven safety measures like masking, distancing and hand hygiene, risks continued school closures, economic impact on local businesses, postponements or cancelling of important surgeries and appointments, depleted beds and staff to care for people who need immediate care, and preventable deaths.

The Gundersen Health System offers news and advice regarding the pandemic at gundersenhealth.org/covid19.

The state is also stepping up its messaging calling on people to take precautions against the virus. On Thursday morning, Gov. Kim Reynolds held a news conference to introduce the state’s new public awareness campaign.

“It’s more important now than ever to reach as many Iowans as possible with information about what they can do to stop the spread of the virus,” Reynolds said. “If everyone does their part, we’ll get life back to normal and keep our businesses open, our kids in school, our hospitals stable and our essential workforce healthy.”

She showed a television commercial the state is releasing that includes Former Gov. Tom Vilsack, Olympic gold medal winner and Iowa wrestling coach Dan Gable, Carson King of the Carson King Foundation; University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics CEO Suresh Gunasekaran and Katie Witt, a Test Iowa nurse.