Polk County’s pre-holiday COVID-19 infection rate is worse than it was over July 4

By: - September 3, 2020 3:51 pm

Walkers visit city-owned Gray’s Lake Park on April 1, 2020. (Photo by Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

As Iowans prepare to enter another holiday weekend, Polk County’s reported COVID-19 infection rates are at a higher rate than they were over the July 4 weekend.

But even though the virus is more present in the community than ever, people may feel more comfortable traveling or potentially exposing themselves to the virus now than they did two months ago, said Nola Aigner Davis, spokesperson for the Polk County Health Department.

“We’re all getting tired of COVID-19. I get it. We never had to limit where we go or social distance ourselves,” Aigner Davis said. “If we don’t follow these practices it won’t go away.”

In Polk County, where the average case rate is on the rise, the public health department is concerned there may be a spike in positive cases. 

On July 4, the county had a 14-day average of 1,190 people testing positive for COVID-19, according to the state’s data. As of Aug. 31, the average is now 1,944. 

Last week, Polk County reached a seven-day average infection rate of over 10%, one of the criteria to be considered a hot spot, according to the White House. The other threshold requires a community to hit a positive case rate exceeding 100 cases per 100,000 population, which Polk County reached over a month ago.

Despite recommendations from health officials, the Polk County Board of Supervisors is declining to declare a mask mandate in the area. The board cited concerns about the legality of enforcing the proclamation. A mask mandate is in effect in Des Moines, but people found in violation are more likely to receive a mask than a ticket from police.

As of Thursday, Polk County is at a 10.5% positivity rate, according to the state’s COVID-19 site. 

“Our cases are higher. If we are not following the precautions over this holiday and pretending it doesn’t exist, we’re going to see higher numbers,” Aigner Davis said. 

Another potential challenge is the closure of Test Iowa sites on Labor Day. If there is an increase in Iowans who are seeking a test following the holiday weekend, that’s one less day with free and available appointments.

Over the July 4 weekend, there was a spike in Iowans wanting to get tested both before and after the holiday. Some reported on social media they had trouble getting an appointment.

Beyond social distancing and limiting gatherings, Aigner Davis said people who have been exposed to COVID-19 should continue to quarantine, even if they tested negative.

Over the 14-day quarantine period, someone who tested negative can still show up positive a few days later.

“This isn’t a free pass. Everything you’re going to do will impact you and everyone around you,” Aigner Davis said.

Statewide, COVID-19 infection rates have been on the rise as well, particularly in cities with college campuses. According to the New York Times’ COVID-19 tracker, Iowa is second to South Dakota for the highest amount of virus growth per capita in the country.

In Iowa, there were at least nine new coronavirus deaths and 617 positive cases reported on Sept. 2, according to the New York Times COVID-19 tracker. On average, there are 1,086 cases per day, an increase of 113% from the average two weeks earlier, according to the New York Times.

In comparison, the state’s COVID-19 website is reporting 588 positive cases in the last 24 hours.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds closed bars and similar facilities last week in six counties — Black Hawk, Dallas, Johnson, Linn, Polk and Story — noting that university parties and other gatherings sans masks had been one factor in the spread of the virus. Her action brought immediate protests from owners of bars who said thousands of jobs could be lost, along with some businesses.

Over the July 4 weekend, the state did not have any proclamations in place that closed down bars.

COVID-19 mitigation practices for Labor Day weekend by the Polk County Health Department

  • If you don’t have to go places, don’t. Limit outings and utilize delivery services.
  • Limit the number of people attending gatherings or events to 10 people or less.
  • Continue to wear masks and maintain at least 6 feet social distance wherever you go.
  • If you are in quarantine for COVID-19, stay in quarantine for a full 14 days even if you test negative.
  • If you are sick, stay home and avoid others until you feel well.
  • If you have COVID-19 and are sick, follow the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • If you have been tested for COVID-19, stay home and avoid others until you have your test results.

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