Iowa’s COVID cases fall, but a few counties see steep increases

By: - May 17, 2021 10:49 am

Some Iowa counties with low vaccination rates are seeing spikes in COVID-19 cases. (Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

As many Iowans take off their masks and enjoy new freedom, the state continues to experience a sharp drop in new COVID-19 cases. 

However, new data from the New York Times show that several Iowa counties have seen steep jumps in the past two weeks. And the state passed another grim milestone, topping 6,000 COVID-related deaths since the pandemic started.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week said in most cases, U.S. residents who are fully vaccinated don’t need to wear a mask indoors or outdoors. Des Moines lifted its mask mandate, as have some stores and attractions. 

There are only 13 states that saw bigger drops in new daily COVID cases in the past week than Iowa, where the number fell by 25%, the Washington Post reported. New Jersey’s count dropped 64%. On the other end of the spectrum, Alabama’s daily cases rose 104%.

In that same period, new cases across the country fell by 19%.

On the county level, the hottest spot in the United States was Armstrong, Texas with 1,305 new cases per 100,000 people over the past seven days. By comparison, Polk County, Iowa, had 61 cases per 100,000 residents and Linn, 57. Franklin had 264; Hancock, 129; and Osceola, 98.

Iowa recorded 138 new cases on Sunday, well below the seven-day average of 236, the New York Times reported. No Iowa county was listed in the top half of the Times’ “hot spots” scale. Franklin County, with 39 cases per 100,000 people, was the highest in Iowa and was averaging 3.9 new cases a day, according to the Times.

Looking at a longer trend, cases in Franklin County have jumped 59% in the past two weeks, the Times reported. Some 37% of the county’s residents were fully vaccinated for COVID-19, slightly lower than the 41% statewide rate.

But several Iowa counties, some with lower-than-average vaccination rates, saw much higher percentage increases. 

Mitchell County logged a 500% increase in cases with a vaccination rate of 34%. Keokuk County’s 300% jump in cases came with a third of its residents fully vaccinated, the Times reported. 

Hamilton County saw a 233% increase even though 42% of residents were fully vaccinated.

Osceola County’s cases rose 200% with 34% of residents fully vaccinated. Davis County saw a 100% increase in cases after just a quarter of its residents were vaccinated.

Taylor, Audubon, Davis, Jefferson and Van Buren counties also had increases of 100% or more the past two weeks. All but Audubon had vaccination rates under the state average, with Van Buren at 29%. 

In Audubon County, 45% of residents were fully vaccinated. 

Some of those counties are averaging less than one new case a day, so small changes can lead to large percentage increases.

Since the pandemic started, Iowa has recorded 399,555 cases and 6,006 deaths, the Iowa Department of Public Health reported. As of Monday morning, only one nursing home had an outbreak, with 10 cases involving residents and staff members. Just under 39% of Iowa’s COVID-related deaths have been at nursing homes. 

As of May 7, more than a third of state employees at six state-run care facilities continued to decline vaccinations, the Iowa Capital Dispatch reported. 

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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.