Iowa’s COVID cases jump 68% as school officials, feds consider next moves

By: - August 18, 2021 3:25 pm

Iowa’s COVID cases are on the decline, but still significantly higher than they were this summer. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Iowa’s COVID-19 cases have risen nearly 70% in two weeks as hospitalizations jumped 77%, according to New York Times data reported Wednesday.

With 775 new cases a day, up 68%, Iowa still is seeing far lower numbers than earlier in the pandemic, when more than 5,000 cases a day were recorded. In July, the seven-day average hit just 39 cases.

The increase in cases the past two weeks marks a slower gain than in other recent periods. For example, just five days earlier, on Aug. 13, the Times reported a gain of 122% in daily cases over a two-week period.

News of the most recent surge came as a flurry of developments in the nation’s COVID response came into focus.

Federal officials on Wednesday said they plan to offer COVID vaccine booster shots beginning in late September. That will test local officials across the nation who are still trying to get a large share of residents vaccinated for the first time.

The move was prompted by evidence that immunity among the vaccinated is waning, and the delta variant threatens to put even those who are vaccinated at greater risk in coming months.

According to the Times, 51% of Iowans were fully vaccinated as of Wednesday.

Sarah Ekstrand, spokeswoman for the Iowa Department of Public Health, said Iowa health officials will focus on nursing homes first when the booster shot program begins Sept. 20. The state has 200,000 vaccines on hand and will order more Aug. 23, she added. 

Beginning Sept. 20, “Individuals who were fully vaccinated earliest in the vaccination rollout, including many health care providers, nursing home residents and other seniors, will likely be eligible for a booster,” Ekstrand said.

Schools scramble

At the same time, school officials are scrambling to decide how to get staff members, teachers and students to wear masks, even as a new state law prevents local mask mandates. In Des Moines, officials are considering incentives, and strongly worded recommendations, to encourage vaccines and mask-wearing, Iowa Public Radio reported after a town hall Tuesday. 

Thomas Ahart is superintendent of Des Moines public schools. (Photo courtesy of Des Moines district)

“We cannot require staff to wear masks but we’re encouraging, in the strongest legal language, to model this practice,” Des Moines Superintendent Thomas Ahart said, according to IPR. “So I’m confident that the vast majority of our staff will be modeling best practice for our students.”

No word yet on whether that district or others will sue to attempt to overturn the law that bans local mask mandates, pushed by GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds and approved by the Republican-controlled Iowa Legislature.

COVID-related hospitalizations rose 17% nationwide and 15% in Iowa in a week, the Washington Post reported. Iowa ranked 32nd among the states in per-capita hospitalizations.

Vaccinations are expected to reduce symptoms and complications in many Iowans.

Polk, Linn counties see big increases

Linn County has seen a 220% increase in daily COVID cases in two weeks, now averaging 54. Polk County’s average is up 134%, to 108 new cases a day, the Times reported. Linn is home to Iowa’s second-largest city, Cedar Rapids. Polk County includes the state capital, Des Moines.

Black Hawk County is averaging 42 new cases a day, up 73%. Webster County’s tally rose 51%, to 16 new cases day.

Since the pandemic started, Iowa has recorded 419,238 COVID cases, and 6,210 related deaths, the Iowa Department of Public Health reported. Daily deaths peaked on Nov. 30 at 71 and have fallen below 20 in most recent days.

Daily positive tests peaked on Nov. 10 at 5,799.

The Washington Post reported that Iowa’s per-capita COVID case count is up 66% in a week, ranking 27th. The nationwide tally of new cases per day is up 18%, with a test positivity rate of 10.5%.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

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.