DES MOINES — The White House’s task force on the nation’s COVID-19 pandemic response is asking Iowa to take cues from other states that have enacted more aggressive mitigation strategies, which the task force says have helped slow the virus’ spread.
The latest task force report, dated last Sunday, says that “in states with aggressive mitigation, we are beginning to see the impact of that mitigation despite the cooling weather.”
The report contrasts that with many areas of the country where “mitigation efforts are inadequate or too recently implemented to see a significant impact.”
COVID-19 has been spreading exponentially in Iowa recently, leading to record cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Over just the past month in Iowa, the 14-day average number of new cases has quadrupled, the number of daily hospitalizations has tripled and the 14-day average of new deaths has doubled.
“With increased strong mitigation, cases could decline to the yellow zone (a measurement of the virus’ spread) within four to five weeks, like in states that strongly mitigated during the summer surge,” the latest White House task force report said.
The report listed 98 of Iowa’s 99 counties in the most serious “red zone” for the number of cases and deaths per capita. Only Lucas County was not listed there, but was included in a “yellow zone” of risk.
That, however, was an improvement over the task force’s report from a week earlier, which listed every Iowa county in a red zone.
The new report calls for “significant behavior change of all Americans,” including:
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• “Ensure masks at all times in public.” Gov. Kim Reynolds, after months of resistance, recently issued a partial mask mandate. But the requirement is for people who are in public and near others for at least 15 minutes — not “at all times,” as the White House recommends.
• “Ensure every American understands the clear risks of any family or friend interactions outside of their immediate household indoors without masks.” Reynolds’ office recently launched a public information campaign designed to educate Iowans about the effect wearing face masks in public can have on slowing the virus’ spread.
• “Increase physical distancing through significant reduction in capacity in public and private indoor spaces.” The report recommends limiting restaurants’ indoor capacity to less than 25 percent and limiting bar hours. Reynolds recently ordered bars must close at 10 p.m., but there are no current capacity restrictions on public places in Iowa, aside from social distancing requirements. There were capacity limits on indoor spaces like restaurants and bars earlier in the pandemic, but those have since been lifted.
The report says the task force is “encouraged by the steps the governor is taking to decrease transmission,” and notes the rise in cases was less than previous weeks.
However, the report also warns COVID-19-related hospitalizations will continue to rise in the coming weeks.
“Mitigation and messaging needs to be further strengthened as other states have done,” the report says.
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