“Over the past four days we have seen a surge of [COVID-19] cases reported to us, totally over 300, and primarily in younger persons,” Johnson County Public Health Director Dave Koch said in a written statement on Wednesday. “We anticipate this trend to continue.”
Koch stressed the importance of social distancing and other simple mitigation efforts, like staying home when feeling ill. He also pointed to the face covering ordinances in Iowa City and Johnson County.
“Masks save lives,” Koch wrote.
At 10 a.m. on Wednesday, the Iowa Department of Public Health was reporting another 97 Johnson County residents had tested positive during the previous 24 hours. IDPH’s 14-day average positivity rate for the county’s COVID-19 tests increased to 12.4 percent. A week earlier on Aug. 19, IDPH’s 14-day average positivity rate for Johnson County was 7.7 percent.
“What we are seeing right now is that our actions have consequences,” Koch wrote. “Community health and safety is everybody’s responsibility. Lapses in that responsibility, even by a few, affect all of us.”
The Gazette’s Vanessa Miller reported on Sunday that hundreds of University of Iowa students “waited Saturday and early Sunday to get into Iowa City bars, [and] no one was seen enforcing distancing in the lines. Although some students wore masks, few were wearing them over both their nose and mouth as public health guidance call for.”
On Tuesday, UI Assistant Dean and Director of Student Accountability Angela Ibrahim-Olin reminded students of the “COVID-19 Student Agreement” they were required to agree to as a condition of their enrollment at the university. In it, students agreed to wear face coverings in public settings, follow social distancing guidelines and take other recommended precautions to help limit the spread of COVID-19.
In a statement published on UI’s Division of Student Life site, Ibrahim-Olin said the provisions of the agreement apply to “areas off-campus where the university has a clear and distinct interest.”
Students “found to be engaging in behavior that the university has deemed unsafe, such as gatherings exceeding capacities where individuals are unable to maintain 6 feet of physical distance, gatherings where individuals are not wearing face coverings, and other factors that jeopardize individuals’ health and safety, may result in discipline,” Ibrahim-Olin wrote.
If the university determines a student has violated the agreement, the student will face punishment. That punishment will vary according to circumstances, Ibrahim-Olin explained. But the assistant dean warned, “Multiple violations of these expectations may potentially be subject to more severe sanctions such as housing contract cancellation, or suspension from the university.”
Both Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa have said students engaging in behavior likely to spread COVID-19 may face suspension.
The 97 newly reported cases in Johnson County on Wednesday accounted for almost 20 percent of the 471 confirmed cases of COVID-19 IDPH reported statewide between 10 a.m. on Tuesday and 10 a.m. on Wednesday. Those cases, which include 29 residents of Linn County, increased the total number of Iowans who have tested positive to 57,893.
The department was also reporting 1,061 Iowans had died from the virus as of 10 a.m. on Wednesday, an increase of 13 deaths since the same time on Tuesday.
Des Moines announces a face covering mandate
On Wednesday, Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie signed an emergency proclamation requiring face coverings to be worn in public places in the city. Like Iowa City’s mask mandate, Des Moines’ proclamation says no business “may provide service to a customer or allow a customer to enter its premises” unless that customer is wearing a face covering.
Gov. Kim Reynolds and Attorney General Tom Miller maintain that local governments do not have the authority to mandate face coverings. But neither has taken any action against local government who have done so, and no court has issued a ruling on the issue.
“According to Polk County Emergency Management, Iowa’s positive cases have been rising since August 9, and Iowa is one of only eight states with increasing activity,” the City of Des Moines said in a statement on the mandate.