White House Coronavirus Task Force warns the country is ‘in a very dangerous place,’ ranks Iowa sixth for rate of new cases

2019 novel coronavirus — CDC

In its latest report, the White House Coronavirus Task Force warns the entire country is “in a very dangerous place due to the current, extremely high COVID baseline and limited hospital capacity; a further post-Thanksgiving surge will compromise COVID patient care, as well as medical care overall.”

“The COVID risk to all Americans is at a historic high,” said the report dated Nov. 29.

According to the task force, last week the nationwide average for new cases of COVID-19 was 349 per 100,000 residents. In Iowa, the average was 650 new cases per 100,000 residents. The rate of deaths from the virus remained high, with Iowa recording seven deaths per 100,000 residents. That was more than twice the national average of 3.1 deaths per 100,000 residents.

The task force noted that Iowa’s position had improved since the previous report, but the state still ranked sixth in the country for the rate of new cases, and seventh in terms of the average positivity rate of its COVID-19 tests. In the task force report dated Nov. 22, Iowa ranked fifth and third, respectively, in those categories.

“Cases may be reaching a plateau in Iowa, although the percent of nursing homes with at least one positive staff member and positive residents continues to be at very high levels, indicating virus spread is still broad. COVID-related hospitalizations will continue in the coming weeks,” the task force said in its report that was delivered to the state on Sunday. ABC News obtained a copy of the report on Wednesday and published it.

The task advised Iowa officials to strictly enforce the partial mask mandate Gov. Reynolds announced on Nov. 16. It also recommended “active testing in schools for teachers and students where cases are increasing,” as well as limiting restaurant indoor dining capacity to less than 25 percent and the hours of operation of bars until an area is in the yellow zone, with an average of 50 or fewer new cases per 100,000 residents.

None of Iowa’s 99 counties were in the yellow zone in the latest report. Two, Poweshiek and Shelby, were in the orange zone, with an average of between 51 and 100 new cases per 100,000 residents. The other 97 counties had an average of 101 or more new cases last week, placing them in the red zone.

“If you are under 40, you need to assume you became infected during the Thanksgiving period if you gathered beyond your immediate household,” the report said. “Most likely, you will not have symptoms; however, you are dangerous to others and you must isolate away from anyone at increased risk for severe disease and get tested immediately.”

The task said that anyone over 65 or at increased risk due to underlying health conditions who gathered with people outside there immediate household should monitor themselves for symptoms and “must be tested immediately” if any are detected “as the majority of therapeutics work best early in infection.”

At 10 a.m. on Wednesday, the Iowa Department of Public Health reported another 2,964 Iowans, including 77 residents of Johnson County and 190 residents of Linn County, had tested positive for COVID-19 during the previous 24 hours. The new cases pushed the state’s total number of confirmed cases to 233,866.

IDPH also reported 22 more deaths from the virus between 10 a.m. on Tuesday and 10 a.m. on Wednesday, bringing the state’s COVID-19 death toll to 2,449.

The number of outbreaks in long-term care facilities reached a new high on Wednesday, with IDPH reporting that 163 facilities, or approximately 37 percent of all such facilities in the state, have outgoing outbreaks. That may actually understate the extent of virus activity in long-term care facilities, because three residents in a facility must test positive for IDPH to declare an outbreak. According to the task force, 70 percent of the state’s long-term care facilities had at least one staff member with a confirmed infection last week.

The number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals remains high. IDPH reported 1,162 confirmed cases in hospital on Wednesday morning. One hundred and eighty-one of those patients had been admitted during the preceding 24 hours, and 226 of them were in intensive care units.

“If state and local policies do not reflect the seriousness of the current situation, all public health officials must alert the state population directly,” the new task force report stated. “It must be made clear that if you are over 65 or have significant health conditions, you should not enter any indoor public spaces where anyone is unmasked due to the immediate risk to your health; you should have groceries and medications delivered.”