COVID-19: Surge continues in Johnson County, state changes how it counts ‘recovered’ cases, Reynolds sees positive signs

Jordan Sellergren/Little Village

Johnson County’s unprecedented streak of daily double-digit increases in new cases of COVID-19 has now lasted two weeks. At 10 a.m. on Tuesday, the Iowa Department of Public Health was reporting a total of 1,134 confirmed cases of the virus in Johnson County, an increase of 38 since the same time on Monday.

During the 14 days since the current surge in virus activity began, 484 new cases have been confirmed in Johnson County. The cases make up 42.7 percent of the total number of cases reported in the county since COVID-19 was first confirmed in Johnson on March 8.

Eight residents of the county have died from the virus so far, and a majority of those who have been infected are now considered recovered, but the way the IDPH designates someone infected with COVID-19 to be recovered changed on Monday night and significantly increased the state’s recovery statistics, as Gov. Kim Reynolds explained during a press conference on Tuesday’s morning.

As part of routine contact tracing, case investigators have been attempting to contact individuals who test positive at least twice — first to get information about who the individual has been in close contact with, and a second time to check on the individual’s progress with the disease and determine if they should be considered recovered. According to Gov. Reynolds, the second phone call was made “approximately 10 days” after the first call.

“This is how we’ve been collecting the recovery data,” Reynolds said on Tuesday. “However what’s happening is a lot of the calls go unanswered or unreturned on the follow-up calls and then they’re not counted in the number of Iowans recovered.”

The statewide recovery rate as of Monday, under that system, was 62 percent. But Reynolds and her advisers believe that number is too low to accurately indicate how many Iowans have recovered from COVID-19.

“Beginning this week, Iowans will be considered recovered after 28 days following a positive test, unless we received information that they’re hospitalized or that they have not recovered,” the governor explained.

That change boosted the percentage of Iowans considered recovered to almost 80 percent overnight. Reynolds said she believes that number is more accurate.

The impact of the change can be seen in the number of people in Johnson County IDPH reports as recovered. On Monday at 10 a.m., it was 540. On Tuesday at the same time, it was 675.

Statewide, IDPH reported on Tuesday another 213 Iowans had tested positive for COVID-19, including eight residents of Linn County, bringing the state’s total to 26,941. The department also reported another five people have died from the virus. The state’s COVID-19 death toll stood at 712, as of 10 a.m.

The statewide positivity rate — the percentage of people being tested who were confirmed as having COVID-19 — for the 24-hour period ending at 10 a.m. on Tuesday was 6.4 percent. In Linn County, the positivity rate was 5.4 percent. Johnson County had a positivity rate of 14.8 percent.

During her press conference on Tuesday, Reynolds began her remarks about COVID-19 by saying, “Iowa continues to show signs of positive recovery.” She did acknowledge the state is seeing an increase in the number of new cases, but said that was only because of increases in 10 counties. The governor added that the majority of those new cases are in people under the age of 40, a demographic less likely to require hospitalization as a result of COVID-19.

Reynolds was asked by a reporter if she plans to close businesses, or at least bars and restaurants, if Iowa sees a spike in new cases as some other states are experiencing.

“Well, again I want to give a shout-out to our businesses across the state,” the governor replied. “I think they’re acting responsibly and appropriately.”

Although Reynolds did not directly answer the question, the answer appears to be no. The governor restated her belief that Iowans will make the right choices without any further action on her part.

“What I love about the system that we’ve put in place — that Test Iowa has allowed us to do — is we are able to provide a lot of information for businesses and for Iowans, and they can take that information, and be responsible and make decisions about how they move forward,” she said.

As Reynolds’ press conference was coming to end, Gov. Andrew Cuomo released a list of 16 states whose residents “must self-quarantine for 14 days” if they are traveling to New York. Iowa was one of the states.

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