CORONAVIRUS

Mandate masks in wide swath of Iowa, unpublished White House report recommended

Task force says more restrictions needed in five 'red zone' counties

(Dreamstime/TNS)
(Dreamstime/TNS)

Correction: A previous version of this story had the incorrect positive case rate for Wednesday. The correct number is 8.48 percent. 

DES MOINES — Face masks should be required in public for everyone in 47 Iowa counties — nearly half the state’s 99 counties — where the new coronavirus is spreading at higher rates, and bars and gyms should be closed and social gatherings limited to 10 people in five of those counties, according to a White House Coronavirus Task Force document that was prepared in detail but never published.

The document was first reported Thursday by the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit news organization based in Washington, D.C.

Iowa for the second time in the past week set a daily new high Thursday for number of new coronavirus cases recorded in a 24-hour span since the infection was confirmed here over four months ago, state public health data shows.

According to the White House Task Force document, Sioux, Osceola, Webster, Franklin and Clarke counties in Iowa are in what the task force calls in the “red zone” — which means new cases in those counties spiked above 100 per 100,000 population and positive test results have risen above 10 percent.

In “red zone” areas, the task force recommends public officials order bars and gyms closed and limit social gatherings to 10 people or fewer and ensure all businesses require masks and practice social distancing.

The task force also recommends that in “red zone” areas individuals use only takeout or eat outdoors when dining out, and reduce public interactions and activities to 25 percent of normal.

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The task force document says there are 42 more counties in the “yellow zone,” which means new cases between 10 and 100 per 100,000 population and positive test results of between 5 and 10 percent. The document does not name all 42 counties, but does list the top 12: Polk, Johnson, Black Hawk, Scott, Dubuque, Story, Dallas, Woodbury, Pottawattamie, Cerro Gordo, Plymouth and Marshall counties.

It is not clear, though, how the task force arrived at the names and numbers of the counties in each zone. The report said it used data provided by the counties — not the state. The state’s data, which The Gazette analyzes daily, confirms at least 30 counties meet the “yellow zone” criteria — including the 12 the report listed specifically. And four meet the “red zone” criteria. According to the state data analyzed by The Gazette, Linn County does not qualify under either.

In “yellow zone” areas, the task force recommends limiting gyms to 25 percent capacity and closing bars until the positive test rate is under 3 percent, limiting social gatherings to 25 or fewer and reducing public interactions and activities to half of normal.

In both red and yellow zones, the task force recommends requiring people to wear face coverings and social distancing while in public.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has recommended Iowans wear masks in public, but has not required it and has not permitted local governments to create their own mask requirements or other pandemic response strategies.

She also has allowed Iowa bars and gyms to open at full capacity with social distancing measures in place. And there is no limit on the size of social gatherings.

The state public health department and governor’s office did not immediately respond Thursday to emailed questions asking whether either is considering the heightened procedures recommended by the White House Task Force.

Iowa’s statewide positive test rate for Wednesday was 8.48 percent, according to state data.

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The state public health department reported 830 new cases in the 24-hour period ending at 11 a.m. Thursday. That surpassed the previous high of 769 newly reported cases from Saturday.

The 830 newly reported cases Wednesday were not necessarily confirmed in that 24-hour span, just reported by the state in that window. The new cases likely were confirmed by local health officials over a span of multiple days before reported to the state.

Also, 18 new virus-related deaths were reported Thursday by the state public health department. That is the largest one-day total since June 2.

Similar to the new cases, the 18 newly reported deaths did not necessarily occur in the past 24 hours, but more likely occurred over a span of multiple days.

Overall, the rolling average of new cases continues to trend upward to a second peak, nearly matching the previous peak in early May.

The rolling average of new deaths also has been slowly increasing over the past three weeks, as has the number of Iowans hospitalized with the virus.

Katie Brumbeloe of The Gazette contributed to this report.

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