While I applaud Gov. Kim Reynolds’ willingness to take action to protect the health and safety of Iowans, her recent and abrupt closing of all bars in six Iowa counties leaves me wondering what she has against Linn County.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Linn County has an estimated 2019 population of 226,706, or about 7.2 percent of Iowa’s estimated 2019 total population of 3,155,070. As of Aug. 28, 2020 (per the New York Times online, Aug. 28, 2020), Linn County has accounted for only about 4.6 percent of COVID-19 total Iowa cases since the start of the pandemic.
While these numbers don’t indicate why Linn County has historically produced COVID-19 cases at rates substantially lower than the average Iowa county, the fact remains that in Linn County one has been significantly less likely to contract the virus than in other parts of the state. In fact, based on cases per 100,000 population, Linn County is 51st of Iowa’s 99 counties. In contrast, the other five counties subjected to bar closures were much closer to the top of the list, ranging from 10th to 21st.
Is it possible that more recent experience points to a problem in Linn County? Looking at the same data, which provide figures for new cases reported in the past seven days, we find that, due to its size, Linn County is seventh on the list for total new cases. The other five counties subject to bar closures range from first to sixth place.
Yet when considering the rate of COVID-19 infection to the size of county population, in this case, new cases in the past seven days per 100,000 population, the other five counties were in third, fourth, 15th, 17th and 38th place on the list. Linn County? It took me awhile to find it in the list; it is way down there at 67th of 99 counties, at 90 new cases per 100,000 population. This compares with the other five counties, in which new cases were in the range between 159 to 620 per 100,000 population and skewed toward the higher end of that rage.
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More recent data from the New York Times, as of Sept. 2, for new COVID-19 cases in the last sevendays shows that Linn County has fallen to 77th of Iowa’s 99 counties, at a rate of 84 new cases per 100,000 population. The other five counties moved up to second, fourth, 12th, 21st and 30th, with new infection rates ranging from 200 to 807 new cases per 100,000 population. These infection rates are 2.38 to 9.6 times the rates of new infection experienced in Linn County in the same period.
It would be difficult to find a statistician, economist or market analyst who would argue that the absolute number of cases is a better representation of the COVID-19 threat in a community than the rate of infection, or number of cases per population.
Something is going on in Linn County that is producing cases of COVID-19 at substantially lower rates when compared with its peers in the state. I would like to believe that it is because we have taken COVID-19 restrictions to heart, are wearing masks and social distancing to stop the spread of the virus. We fail to see any compelling reason to target Linn County with bar closures.
Until the closure is lifted, however, many small-business owners in Linn County who were struggling with life under COVID-19 restrictions, and now the aftermath of the derecho, will continue to suffer.
Matthew Wolf is CEO of Iowa Brewing Company.