CORONAVIRUS

Iowa's coronavirus rate worst in the nation

White House task force says state needs to do more

Gov. Kim Reynolds listens to Czech Village real estate investor Mary Kay Novak McGrath speak during a tour of small busi
Gov. Kim Reynolds listens to Czech Village real estate investor Mary Kay Novak McGrath speak during a tour of small businesses in the Czech Village affected by the Aug. 10 derecho storm in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

Already with the highest number of COVID-19 cases per capita than any other state in the nation, Iowa’s trend grew worse Tuesday even as state officials continue to disregard most of the mitigation steps advocated by a White House task force.

In the latest report published Sunday, the federal coronavirus task force said Iowa’s rate of 232 new cases per 100,000 population over the last week is nearly triple the national average of 88 per 100,000. It strongly recommended the state close bars and limit restaurant capacity in 61 counties, and strongly recommended enacting a mandate that Iowans wear masks in public.

“Community transmission continues to be high in rural and urban counties across Iowa, with increasing transmission in the major university towns. Mask mandates across the state must be in place to decrease transmission,” the report reads.

Last Thursday. Gov. Kim Reynolds ordered bars in six counties including Johnson and Linn — but not the full 61 as recommended — closed for now.

The order also said that “all peace officers of the state are hereby called upon to assist in the enforcement” of the closures and of previous mitigation steps.

Her emergency proclamation came days after students returned to the state’s public universities in Iowa City, Ames and Cedar Falls and were seen in each community crowding bars and largely ignoring social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines.

While she repeatedly has encouraged Iowans to wear masks in public, Reynolds has said a mandate would be unenforceable and she would not enact one. In her order last week, Reynolds reiterated that “I strongly encourage all Iowans two or older to wear a mask or other face covering when in public settings, especially in circumstances when it is not possible to remain six feet away from others outside their household, unless it is unsafe to do so because of health or disability.”

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However, she said local officials — like those in Johnson County and Iowa City — who issued mask orders in their own jurisdictions do not have the authority to do so.

Meanwhile, Iowa’s rolling seven-day average of new cases again set a record Tuesday, showing that an average of 1,177 more cases were reported each day for a week. The state’ seven-day rolling average has more than doubled in the past 10 days.

State public health data in a 24-hour period ending at 11 a.m. Tuesday also shows:

• Johnson County, home to the University of Iowa, was on day seven of triple-digit increases of new cases, with 135. It is the only county in the state to report new cases of 100 or more.

• Story County, home to Iowa State University, saw a positivity rate of more than 41 percent in the 24-hour period — over twice as bad as the statewide average of 19.92 percent.

• Black Hawk County, home to the University of Northern Iowa, continued to have the fourth-most COVID-19 cases of all 99 counties, but its positivity rate was just 8.09 percent in the 24-hour period — less than half the state average.

In all, the state added 683 cases Tuesday, bringing the total to 65,397.

Allamakee, Black Hawk, Carroll, Harrison, Marion, Muscatine, Wapello, Webster and Winnebago counties each recorded one COVID-19 death. But the state subtracted a death attributed to Dallas County — presumably to correct a past discrepancy. The additional deaths brings the state total to 1,121.

Statewide, hospitalizations because of the virus increased over the 24-hour period from 299 to 311. Intensive care patients rose from 85 to 88, but those on ventilators decreased from 46 to 43.

A spokesman for Reynolds said the Iowa numbers represent an influx of testing and the addition of antigen testing results,

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“The report is a snapshot in time and reflects additional testing for back to school, on college campus and the inclusion of antigen testing,” spokesman Pat Garrett said Tuesday.

The White House task force report says Iowa should take stronger action than it has.

Earlier, the task force recommended closing bars in counties it designated as “red zones.” In the latest report, the task force recommended closing bars in both “red” and “yellow” counties.

“Bars must be closed, and indoor dining must be restricted to 50% of normal capacity in yellow zone and 25% of normal capacity in red zone counties and metro areas,” the report said.

The task force categorizes counties and metro areas by the rate of the virus’ spread. Iowa has 28 counties in the red zone — the highest rates of spread — and 33 more in the yellow zone, according to the latest task force report.

The report said the red-zone counties are: Polk, Johnson, Story, Clinton, Des Moines, Marion, Lee, Sioux, Plymouth, Warren, Marshall, Wapello, Carroll, Henry, Winneshiek, Boone, Delaware, Crawford, Howard, Clayton, Butler, Tama, Van Buren, O’Brien, Grundy, Clarke, Calhoun and Wayne.

The report said the yellow-zone counties are: Linn, Black Hawk, Scott, Dallas, Woodbury, Dubuque, Webster, Pottawattamie, Cerro Gordo, Muscatine, Jasper, Bremer, Winnebago, Mahaska, Franklin, Humboldt, Buchanan, Hardin, Madison, Jackson, Chickasaw, Dickinson, Mills, Harrison, Jones, Guthrie, Lucas, Jefferson, Cherokee, Hancock, Appanoose, Louisa and Greene.

The six counties Reynolds ordered bars closed until at least Sept. 20 are Black Hawk, Dallas, Johnson, Linn, Polk and Story.

Erin Murphy of The Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau and Katie Brumbeloe of The Gazette contributed to this report.

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