The number of people newly confirmed to have COVID-19 in Iowa ballooned to above 5,000 Friday morning for the first time as hospitalizations for the virus also continued to climb to records.
The 5,096 people diagnosed in a 24-hour period ending at 11 a.m. Friday is the equivalent of more than all the people who live in Western Iowa’s Adams County.
The spike pushed Iowa to rank third worst in the nation when measured by the number of cases per 100,000 people, according to national databases maintained by both the New York Times and Washington Post.
Linn County added 357 cases in the period for a total of 10,729.
Johnson County added 139 cases in the 24 hours for a total of 7,892.
Jones County, which continues to have the highest positivity test rate in the state, added 52 cases in the period for a total of 1,723. But the addition was low enough to bring its seven-day average of new daily cases to below 100, the biggest dip there in days.
Earlier this week, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds ordered that people at indoor gatherings of 25 or more — and outdoor gatherings of 100 or more — wear masks.
Locally, Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague extended until Jan. 15 a requirement that people in the city wear masks in all public spaces. And the Linn County Board of Supervisors is scheduled Monday to discuss whether to pass a mask mandate. The governor’s office has said local officials do not have the authority to enact mask mandates, though several have anyway, including in Cedar Rapids and Johnson County.
Reynolds also earlier this week announced that the state was stepping up its COVID-19 testing capacity — adding appointments at Test Iowa sites and spending nearly $3.5 million in federal aid on tens of thousands more test kits.
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Not only did the number of new virus cases spike in the period ending Friday morning, so did the number of tests conducted. The 10,979 results returned in the period was the second-highest ever in a comparable time frame.
Increased testing was among the recommendations made in the latest White House Coronavirus Task Force report delivered in recent days to Iowa officials.
The White House report, dated Sunday, said 99 percent of Iowa was considered in either a red, orange or yellow hot zone for the virus. Polk, Linn and Scott counties saw the largest surges in new cases during the previous three weeks, the report said.
“The unyielding COVID spread across Iowa continues with new hospital admissions, inpatients, and patients in the ICU at record levels, indicating deeper spread across the state. The most recent trends, showing steep inclines across all indicators, need immediate action including mask requirements to decrease severity in morbidity and mortality among Iowans,” the report admonished.
COVID-19 hospitalizations hit a new peak for the 24-hour period ending Friday, climbing from 1,208 to 1,227.
Of those, 240 patients were being treated in intensive care units — another record, up from 215. Those on ventilators to help breath rose from 101 to 107 patients.
As of Thursday, Linn County hospitals reported 84 COVID-19 patients, up from 18 reported Oct. 12. Johnson County reported 19, more than double the seven of a month ago.
19 deaths recorded
State public health officials confirmed 19 deaths in the period due to the virus, bringing Iowa’s death toll to 1,947.
Benton and Scott counties each reported two deaths, while Cedar, Clinton, Dubuque, Fayette, Hardin, Ida, Jasper, Mitchell, O’Brien, Polk, Pottawattamie, Shelby, Sioux, Van Buren and Webster counties reported one death each.
Cases among school-aged children up to 17 also saw a significant increase, with 557 new cases reported in the period — another record. A total of 16,484 children have tested positive.
Thirty-nine new cases were reported among education workers, bringing that total to 7,497.
The Iowa Department of Education has granted two-week waivers to move instruction online to 43 Iowa school districts or non-public schools since Nov. 1.
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It had granted only 12 since the school year started this fall before the record-setting surge of COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, according to the department.
State Education Director Ann Lebo said that since Nov. 1, about 9.6 percent of the 446 public and non-public schools and 1,300 school buildings have sought waivers. But many of these districts are some of the state’s largest, affecting tens of thousands of students and staff and their families.
Cases in prison
Several of Iowa’s nine correctional facilities are also seeing a rapid spread of COVID-19 cases among staff and inmates.
The Iowa Department of Corrections reported that 1,382 inmates, or 5.4 percent of the 25,520 tests run on inmates, had tested positive and five had died as of Thursday, the most recent data available. Another 1,280 inmates and 238 staff members had recovered from the virus, and 134 staff members were COVID-19 positive.
An outbreak at the Anamosa State Penitentiary is driving half of the infections at state prisons among both staff and inmates. Of the 1,727 tests run on Anamosa inmates, 679 were positive along with 68 staff. One inmate has died because of complications from COVID-19. None are listed as having recovered.
There also are outbreaks at the Clarinda Correctional Facility, where 380 inmates and 16 staff had tested positive, and the North Central Correctional Facility, in Rockwell City, where 256 inmates and 10 staff were COVID-19 positive.
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Katie Brumbeloe of The Gazette contributed to this report.
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