Iowa’s testing lags behind other states, while positivity rate remains high

An illustration of a coronavirus, created for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Image by Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAM)

Iowa still has a lower rate of testing for COVID-19 than any other state, while the positivity rate among those tested continues to be among the highest in the nation.

Iowa’s rate of COVID-19 infections continues to drop, meanwhile, with the state reporting an additional 779 infections for Monday, along with five additional deaths.

Over the past week, Iowa has averaged 897 new infections each day, which is a decrease of 24% from the average two weeks ago, according to the New York Times.

According to the Washington Post’s COVID-19 tracker, the number of newly reported deaths in Iowa over the past seven days is 427, which represents an increase of 165% from the previous week. That is the second-biggest increase in the nation, behind only Hawaii, when the seven-day death total is measured in both actual numbers and as a percentage of the population.

Of the 10 counties with the fastest-growing per-capita death rates in the nation, two are located in Iowa. Pocahontas County, which averaged 87 new deaths for every 100,000 residents during in the past week, and Monroe County, which averaged 76 additional deaths per 100,000 residents.

Some of the increase could be attributed to the manner in which Iowa is reporting deaths. A state official told the Des Moines Register some of the deaths reported in recent days actually occurred several weeks ago — as early as October — but were added to the state’s totals only this week after a federal review of death certificates.

While the number of tests for the virus rose 3.1% from the previous week, Iowa still has a lower rate of testing than any other state in the nation. Over the past seven days, Iowa tested 596 of every 100,000 residents. Only Puerto Rico, the Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa had a lower rate of testing.

At the same time, Iowa’s positivity rate among those who are tested is currently 24.9%, one of the worst rates in the nation. Among the 50 states, only Pennsylvania, Alabama and Idaho have a higher positivity rate than Iowa. Iowa’s positivity rate is about five times the rate used by the World Health Organization as a benchmark for reopening businesses and facilities.

Since Dec. 14, more than 259,000 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Iowa, according to the Post. More than 61,000 Iowans have completed the vaccination, a number that’s equal to 1.95% of the state’s total population. By that measure, Iowa is just ahead of the national average.

Currently, the Iowa Department of Public Health is reporting 47 outbreaks at Iowa nursing homes, down from the 55 reported earlier this week and about 30 fewer than was reported last week. There are 1,395 infections of staff and residents associated with the 47 active outbreaks. Since the pandemic began, 2,026 nursing home residents have died in Iowa.

So far, Iowa has recorded 320,608 cases of the virus, and 4,919 deaths, since the beginning of the pandemic.

Clark Kauffman
Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.