Iowa COVID-19 cases jump 203%, White House calls for ‘immediate action’

By: - November 11, 2020 1:10 pm

Citing the need for deaf students to see their teachers’ faces, Gov. Kim Reynolds is fighting efforts to extend a court order that  effectively allows schools to impose mask mandates in combatting the spread of COVID-19. (Photo courtesy of the State of Utah)

Iowa has seen a 203% jump in COVID-19 cases in the past two weeks, and hospitalizations and deaths continue to rise sharply, the New York Times reported.

A White House task force in a report dated Nov. 8, obtained by ABC News Wednesday, called on Iowans to wear masks in public and to avoid gatherings with anyone outside their immediate household until positivity rates fall significantly.

“The unyielding COVID spread across Iowa continues with new hospital admissions, inpatients, and patients in (intensive care) at record levels, indicating deeper spread across the state,” the latest federal report said. “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.”

Gov. Kim Reynolds updates Iowans on the COVID-19 outbreak on March 13, 2020 at the state emergency operations center. State Edidemiologist Caitlin Pedati and Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg are also pictured. (Photo by Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Gov. Kim Reynolds on Tuesday ordered new restrictions on gatherings starting Wednesday. She stopped short of closing schools or businesses or requiring masks at all times and places in public.

At a news conference Tuesday, Reynolds said she is striving to keep the economy running while pushing Iowans to wear masks, wash their hands and keep their distance to slow a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases. 

The state has averaged 4,179 new cases a day over the past week, including 3,917 on Tuesday, the Times reported.

On Tuesday, at least 26 Iowans died of the coronavirus, the Times reported. Iowa has had 1,898 coronavirus-related deaths since the pandemic started.

Although some Iowans have reported having difficulty getting an appointment for a coronavirus test, Reynolds said the state will increase capacity. On Tuesday 7,551 tests were completed, 2,213 of them positive, the Iowa Department of Public Health reported.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 1 million people have been tested in Iowa, with an overall positivity rate of 15.7%, the state reported.

Many counties see soaring infection rates

Positivity rates have soared in counties across the state in the past couple of weeks. On Wednesday morning, the state health department reported that all but seven of Iowa’s 99 counties had positivity rates of more than 15%, a threshold used as part of the state’s decisions on whether to allow schools to hold classes only online. Five counties — Jones, Wayne, Page, Calhoun and Jackson —  were above 30%.

Polk County, where the rise in COVID cases had slowed a bit weeks ago, now is adding 522 new cases a day, four or five times the number in some of the other larger counties in the state. Linn County is averaging 403, Scott, 234, Dubuque, 157, and Dallas, 119, the Times reported.

Polk County hospitals have reported they are at capacity or expect to be soon. Hospital and public health officials held a news conference last week urging people to help fight the spread of the virus

As of Wednesday morning, the state reported 1,190 hospitalized COVID patients, up 50 from the day before. Hospitals had admitted 230 COVID patients in the past 24 hours, up from 166 in the previous 24 hours, and 210 patients were in intensive care, up from 196.

The state’s hospitals had 2,390 inpatient beds available, just under 30% of the total. That is down a few percentage points from several weeks ago. There were 336 intensive care beds available Wednesday morning. Hospital officials have emphasized that having beds open does not necessarily mean they have enough staff to care for additional patients.

Hospitals had 729 ventilators, 74% of the supply, available, with 101 patients using one of the devices on Wednesday, the health department indicated.

Iowa nursing homes reported 101 outbreaks on Wednesday, one of the highest totals on record. The facilities have recorded 3,020 cases, and 905 deaths since the pandemic started, the state reported. 

Among the state’s colleges and universities, the University of Iowa had reported the most cases with 2,330, according to the Times. Iowa State University had reported 1,518 by Wednesday, and the University of Northern Iowa, 261. The lowest total among the schools was Luther College with seven, just below Grinnell College and Marshalltown Community College, both at 11. 

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Perry Beeman
Perry Beeman

Perry Beeman has nearly 40 years of experience in Iowa journalism and has won national awards for environmental and business writing. He has written for The Des Moines Register and the Business Record, where he also served as managing editor. He also is former editorial director of Grinnell College. He co-authored the recently published book, "The $80 Billion Gamble," which details the lottery-rigging case of Eddie Tipton.