Not since RAGBRAI spent a night in Iowa Falls last summer has Hardin County’s COVID-19 infection rate been as low as it was over the last week.
On Wednesday, the Iowa Department of Public Health reported that the county recorded 15 new cases of the disease during the week of Feb. 23 through March 1. That equates to 89 new cases per 100,000 population, and is the first time since October that the county has dropped below 100 new cases per 100,000 – the threshold that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention uses to determine whether a county is an area of “high” or “moderate” transmission. The state did not report any additional deaths of Hardin County residents from COVID-19.
Health professionals have warned that the number of COVID-19 cases being reported by the Iowa Department of Public Health may be lower than reality. The results of at-home COVID-19 antigen tests are not reported, and therefore are not included in the state's weekly report.
Last week, the CDC issued new guidance for face mask use by Americans. Since July, the agency has said that anyone in an area of high transmission – a county with 100 or more new cases per 100,000 population in a week – should wear a face mask when they’re inside public places, regardless of vaccination status. Last Friday, the CDC changed those guidelines. Now, mask guidance is based on the strain of a particular county’s health care system, as determined by the CDC. A “COVID-19 Community Level” can be low, medium or high depending on the number of hospital beds being used, hospital admission and the total number of new COVID-19 cases in an area. Guidelines for people in areas rated at each of the levels are as follows:
- Low: Stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccines; get tested if you have symptoms
- Medium: If you are at high risk for severe illness, talk to your health care provider about whether you need to wear a mask and take other precautions; stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccines; get tested if you have symptoms
- High: Wear a mask indoors in public; stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccines; get tested if you have symptoms
The CDC notes that anyone may choose to wear a mask at any time. People with COVID-19 symptoms, a positive test, or exposure to someone with COVID-19 should wear a mask.
According to the CDC’s online map of COVID-19 community levels, Hardin County is an area of low risk. Of Iowa’s 99 counties, 43 are low risk, 42 are medium risk and 14 are high risk. Franklin County, to Hardin County’s north, is an area of high risk.
Hardin County vaccination rates have remained relatively flat over the last week. Last week, 57.7 percent of eligible Hardin County residents (age 5 and older) were fully vaccinated against COVID-19. This week, that percent was 57.9.