While the rate of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations has mostly plateaued in Iowa over the last two weeks, the latest report from the White House Coronavirus Task Force warns that those numbers should be viewed cautiously because of a decrease in the number of Iowans being tested.
The task force issues weekly reports to every governor. The latest, dated Dec. 6, was obtained and published this week by the Center for Public Integrity. Its maps, graphs and recommendations are based on data from the week of Nov. 28 through Dec. 4.
"There are still very high virus levels across the state," the report reads, "activities that were safe in the summer are not safe now."
The report uses "new cases per 100,000 population" to compare virus spread in states, counties and cities across the United States. Anything greater than 101 new cases per 100,000 population in a one-week time period is classified as high community spread, and is called the red zone. Nationally, during the week of Nov. 28-Dec. 4, there were 385 new cases per 100,000 population. During that same time period, Iowa reported 512 new cases per 100,000, and Hardin County saw 599 new cases per 100,000. That’s a slight increase for Hardin County from the previous week, when it reported 480 per 100,000, but still down from the peak of 1,162 per 100,000 during the week of Nov. 7-13. This was Hardin County's 12th week in the red zone.
The report advises the state to implement "aggressive testing to find the asymptomatic individuals responsible for the majority of the infectious spread." It notes “significant reductions in testing”.
One week ago, the Iowa Department of Public Health made additional data available on its coronavirus website, including the total number of tests performed statewide and in each county every day since early March. According to that information, Hardin County has seen a decrease in testing this month, when compared with last month. In November, an average of 201 Hardin County residents were tested every day, compared with 114 in October. So far in December, daily testing of Hardin County residents has averaged 145 people.
The Dec. 6 report also calls for stronger mitigation measures to slow spread of the disease, which has spread “to every corner of the U.S., from small towns to large cities, from farms to beach communities.”
“Despite the severity of this surge and the treat to the hospital systems, many state and local governments are not implementing the same mitigation policies that stemmed the tide of the summer surge; that must happen now,” the report to Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds states.
As of Friday morning, a total of 1,298 Hardin County residents had tested positive for COVID-19 since March. Of those, 868 are reported as having recovered, and 20 local residents have died. (The number of deaths jumped up this week after the state changed its methodology for counting COVID-19 deaths). That leaves 410 Hardin County residents currently infected.