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White House Coronavirus Task Force: Iowa has the country’s highest rate of new COVID-19 cases, and should have statewide mask mandate

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Johnson County had another triple-digit increase in its number of COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, with the Iowa Department of Public Health reporting 138 residents had tested positive for the virus during the 24-hour period ending at 10 a.m. The department’s official 14-day average daily positivity rate for Johnson County increased to 23.4 percent on Tuesday.

Statewide the surge in cases continued with IDPH reporting another 684 Iowans had tested positive for COVID-19 between 10 a.m. on Monday and 10 a.m. on Tuesday. The new cases include 27 residents of Linn County.

A resident of Linn County was among the nine new deaths from the virus IDPH disclosed during that time period. The state’s COVID-19 death toll stood at 1,121 as of 10 a.m. on Tuesday.

The latest weekly report from the White House Coronavirus Task Force, published on Sunday, said Iowa was the state with the fastest growing number of COVID-19 cases per capita. In the previous week’s report, Iowa was ranked ninth.

The report, which the Des Moines Register obtained from IDPH, listed 10 metro areas and 26 counties as being in the Red Zone. Those are areas that “reported both new cases above 100 per 100,000 population, and lab test positivity result above 10%” during the last week. Iowa City was one of the metro areas and Johnson was one of the counties in the Red Zone.

“Community transmission continues to be high in rural and urban counties across Iowa, with increasing transmission in the major university towns,” the report said. “Mask mandates across the state must be in place to decrease transmission.”

Gov. Kim Reynolds has consistently dismissed calls for mask mandates, whether from the White House Coronavirus Task Force or groups of medial professionals in Iowa. The governor has said mask mandates are impractical and that she would rather trust Iowans to do the right thing for themselves and their families during the pandemic.

The report also had a series of actions public officials should implement in Red Zone areas.

• Close bars and gyms, and create outdoor dining opportunities with pedestrian areas

• Limit social gatherings to 10 people or fewer

• Institute routine weekly testing of all workers in assisted living and long-term care facilities. Require masks for all staff and prohibit visitors

• Ensure that all business retailers and personal services require masks and can safely social distance

• Increase messaging on the risk of serious disease for individuals in all age groups with preexisting obesity, hypertension, and diabetes mellitus, and recommend to shelter in place

• Work with local community groups to provide targeted, tailored messaging to communities with high case rates, and increase community level testing

• Recruit more contact tracers as community outreach workers to ensure all cases are contacted and all positive households are individually tested within 24 hours

• Provide isolation facilities outside of households if COVID-positive individuals can’t quarantine successfully

Iowa City has taken steps to make outdoor dining easier for restaurants, and last month the Johnson County Public Health Department announced it was increasing its number of contact tracers from 27 to 50, as well as hiring a third full-time disease prevention specialist.

Both Iowa City and Johnson County have implemented mask mandates, although Reynolds insists no local government has the authority to do so. Iowa City’s mask mandate prohibits businesses from allowing customers not wearing face coverings from entering their premises.

It is up to the governor to order businesses to close or to limit the size of social gathering. Last week, Reynolds ordered bars to close in six Iowa counties, including Johnson and Linn, although by then cases had already begun to spike. The governor lifted the restriction on the size of social gatherings in early June, although people at gatherings of more than 10 are supposed to maintain six feet of social distancing.

As she has with calls for mask mandates, Reynolds has consistently rejected calls for mandatory weekly COVID-19 testing in long-term care facilities.

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The governor’s office had not responded to reporters seeking comment on the new report from the task force.


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