DES MOINES — Iowa remains one of the “red zone” states for elevated dangers of spreading the new coronavirus — but has grown even more risky in the last two weeks, according to the latest report from the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
Published first by the New York Times on Tuesday, the White House report of each state in the nation shows 61 Iowa counties are in either “red” or “yellow” zones that indicate heightened virus activity. That is up from 47 counties that were so labeled in the report just two weeks ago.
Additionally, the federal government has dispatched 14 staff workers from Veterans Affairs to Iowa to assist with “medical activities,” the report said without elaboration.
On a conference call this week with governors, White House Coronavirus Task Force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx listed Iowa as one of 13 states the task force is working with, and encouraged those states to increase mitigation efforts now, according to a CNN report on the call.
“Because if we wait until increased hospitalizations, it is really way too late,” Birx told governors on the call, CNN reported. “Because what we are experiencing now is really different than March and April; it’s very different from the outbreaks of May that was typically contained.
“This widespread community spread (is) in the younger age group, both rural and very urban and urban areas. So by the time you see it, up to 80 percent to 90 percent of your counties already have more than 10 percent (of tests that are positive).”
Statewide, Iowa’s coronavirus cases have surged back to near the state’s first peak of positive test results in early May, according to state public health data.
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Virus-related deaths and hospitalizations also have been climbing, albeit more gradually than the rate of cases.
The White House analysis is based on cases per capita and the share of tests that come back positive — not the sheer number of cases or COVID-19 deaths in a particular county.
The task force categories areas with new cases above 100 per 100,000 population and a positive test share above 10 percent as “red” zones.
Areas with cases between 10 and 100 per 100,000 population and a positive test share of between 5 and 10 percent are “yellow” zones.
The report classified eight Iowa counties as red zones: Dubuque, Emmet, Franklin, Hardin, Lyon, Marshall, Montgomery and Wapello. The report lists Dubuque, Marshalltown and Ottumwa as red-zone cities.
In red zones, the White House recommends bars and gyms be closed, restaurants be limited to strict social distancing and face masks be required in all businesses.
In her latest emergency health proclamation last week, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds did not put any of those mitigation strategies in place.
In Iowa, bars, gyms and restaurants are allowed to operate at full capacity. While Reynolds has encouraged Iowans to wear masks in public when social distancing is not possible, she says she will not require it.
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Some local elected officials have taken it upon themselves to issue face covering mandates, although the Governor’s Office and Iowa Attorney General’s Office assert local officials do not have the legal authority.
However, many large businesses including Walmart and Target have made it mandatory for customers to wear masks in their stores.
The state public health department and governor’s office did not respond Wednesday afternoon to questions about the task force’s recommendations or the federal workers the report said were sent.
Iowa’s statewide positive test share has been below 10 percent for most days since late May.
As of Wednesday afternoon, more than 43,000 Iowans have contracted the virus and 845 Iowans have died of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, since the pandemic arrived here in March.
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