Reynolds reacts to sharp increase in COVID-19 spread

By: 
Travis Fischer

Governor Kim Reynolds set down new restrictions in some of Iowa’s hotspots last week in an attempt to stem the spread of COVID-19, following a sharp incline in new cases.

In response to the increased spread of COVID-19 in Iowa, particularly among young adults, Reynolds announced on Thursday, Aug. 29 that she would be ordering all bars, taverns, breweries, and nightclubs in six counties to temporarily close. Bars in Black Hawk, Dallas, Johnson, Linn, Polk, and Story County are to be closed until Sept. 20.

Bars can still sell beverages for off-premise consumption and restaurants in these counties are still allowed to sell alcohol, however only until 10 p.m.

These restrictions will be enforced by police, and the governor has said that if COVID numbers continue to worsen that additional measures may be taken.

“If they simply move large scale parties and other high-risk activity elsewhere, then we’re going to be prepared to do more,” said Reynolds.

One measure Reynolds isn’t perusing though is a statewide mask mandate. Though Reynolds continues to suggest wearing a mask in public, even going so far as to pen the encouragement into the latest proclamation, she is stopping short of making it an enforceable requirement.

“I just don’t think that’s going to get us where we need to go,” said Reynolds. “It’s not enforceable.”

As of Sunday, Aug. 30, there have been 64,274 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state, increasing the 56,276 total from the week prior by 7,998 cases, more than doubling the number of new cases from the previous week.

A contributing factor to the increase in new cases is the addition of a new metric that was added to the state’s COVID-19 tracking page last week. In addition to the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing that has been commonly used to test for the virus, the state is now including antigen testing into their tracking data.

Unlike PCR tests, which look for the genetic material of the virus itself, antigen tests look for proteins that exist on the surface of the virus to detect its presence. Antigen tests are faster than PCR tests, though have shown to be somewhat less reliable, which is why they were previously classified as “inconclusive” for the state’s data.

“Until now, the number of antigen tests in Iowa has been relatively low,” said Reynolds. “As testing becomes more widespread and common, antigen testing will be a growing portion of the overall testing in Iowa, so this change will be part of that data that we’re reporting to Iowans.”

The addition of positive antigen tests added 1,489 cases to the total count this week. However, even comparing just the latest PCR test results to the previous week, the 6,509 new cases is a significant increase.

In total, approximately 2,571 elderly adults (age 80+); 7,713 older adults (61-80); 17,997 middle aged adults (41-60); 31,494 young adults (18-40); and 4,499 children have tested positive for the disease. These estimates are based on a percentage-based breakdown of the state’s reported positive cases. As the total number of cases increase, the less accurate these estimates will become. A single percentage point difference can change an estimate by more than 640 cases.

With 46,564 cases considered recovered, that leaves roughly 16,598 Iowans currently known to be fighting the disease, an increase of nearly 5,000 from the previous week.

630,841 individuals have been tested since the start of the pandemic, including the addition of 11,966 antigen tests to the total count. An average of 3,300 PCR tests per day were counted over the last week. Current testing shows that roughly 60% of positive cases result in symptoms while 13% have been asymptomatic, with the remaining cases pending or unknown.

In addition, 49,183 Iowans have undergone serology testing for coronavirus antibodies, which would indicate that they have had the virus. Of that number, 3,049, about 6%, have tested positive for antibodies.

The number of hospitalized Iowans increased last week to 299, with 85 patients in an ICU, spiking the numbers back up after a slight decline reported the previous week.

Deaths attributed to COVID-19 are up this week as well. With 76 new deaths reported, the statewide total as of Sunday is 1,112.

Of the deaths reported this week, 31 have been attributed to outbreaks in long term care facilities, bringing the total deaths in long term care facilities to 598. In Iowa, the number of facilities reporting outbreaks has increased by two, with 37 now reporting outbreaks and 1,184 testing positive with 697 considered recovered.

In total, approximately 534 elderly (48%), 456 older adults (41%), 101 middle aged adults (9%), 22 young adults (2%), and one child (.1%) have died from the virus since the pandemic began.

Reynolds continues to attribute the influx of new cases to young people not adhering to social distancing guidelines, which is what led her to impose restrictions on college town bars.

“Over the course of the summer and as the school year begins, we have seen and continue to see a notable increase in virus activity,” said Reynolds. “We also know through the case investigation that’s being done that this is mainly being driven by adults age 18 to 40. … When you look at the last two weeks, 23% of all new positive cases statewide were among young adults ages 19-24.”

Though the influx in cases largely centers on this younger demographic, Reynolds acknowledged last week that the virus spreading among one demographic in the community makes it more likely to spread to other, more vulnerable demographics.

“While we still know this population is less likely to be severely impacted by COVID-19, it is increasing the virus activity in the community, and it is spilling over to other segments of the population,” said Reynolds. “So we are at a point where it is starting to become a workforce issue as well. While we aren’t seeing the impact reflected in hospitalization numbers, it is a concern that they’ll start to impact the staffing in our healthcare systems and potentially our schools. … An increase in community spread, regardless of how it occurs, puts older adults and people with underlying health conditions at even greater risk.”

 

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