White House task force leader warns Iowa needs to do more to mitigate the spread of COVID-19

COVID-19 — U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

During White House Coronavirus Task Force conference call with governors on Tuesday, Dr. Deborah Birx singled out a group of states seeing increases in COVID-19 cases and test positivity rates, and advised their governors to take new mitigation steps, including mandating face coverings and closing bars.

Iowa was one of those states.

The 13 “yellow zone” states, which are all reporting between 10 and 100 new cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 residents and have test positivity rates of between 5 and 10 percent, are all showing the same pattern of virus activity as “red zone” states — the category for the hardest-hit states — as their cases grew.

Just as in the red zone states, much of the surge in the yellow zone is among adults under the age of 35, Birx, the task force director, pointed out.

“Remember, the majority of those are asymptomatic so if you expect to see hospitalizations, by the time you see hospitalization, your community spread is so widespread that you’ve flipped into a red state incredibly quickly,” she warned.

Birx said it is important to immediately begin increasing mitigation measures “because if we wait until increased hospitalizations, it is really way too late.”

“Because what we are experiencing now is really different than March and April; it’s very different from the outbreaks of May that were typically contained. This widespread community spread is in the younger age group, both rural and very urban areas, so by the time you see it, up to 80 to 90 percent of your counties already have more than 10 percent.”

Birx said the White House task force would work directly with yellow zone states to help them with mitigation efforts.

Gov. Kim Reynolds has said that mitigation steps such as mandating face coverings are unnecessary in Iowa, even though health professionals petitioned her to issue a mandate. The governor also asserts that local governments cannot require face coverings.

Despite the governor’s opposition to mask mandates, Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague issued a proclamation requiring face coverings in public last week, and the Johnson County Board of Supervisors will vote to pass a face covering ordinance next week.

The Iowa Department of Public Health reported 458 more confirmed cases of COVID-19 during the 24-hour period ending at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, increasing the total number of Iowans who have tested positive to 43,196.

The newly confirmed cases came from the 5,143 test results reported by IDPH between 10 a.m. on Tuesday and 10 a.m. on Wednesday. The positivity rate, or percentage of people tested who were confirmed as having COVID-19, for that group of results was 8.9 percent.

Among the newly confirmed cases for the 24-hour period ending at 10 a.m. on Wednesday were 28 residents of Johnson County and 39 residents of Linn County. The positivity rate for the 256 tests reported for Johnson County was 10.9 percent, and Linn County’s 411 tests had a positivity rate of 9.5 percent.

A total of 1,799 Johnson County residents have now tested positive for the virus, as have 1,894 residents of Linn County.

According to IDPH, 31,196 Iowans who tested positive for COVID-19 since March 8 are now considered recovered. The department considers anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 to be recovered after 28 days, unless it is informed otherwise.

IDPH also reported another three deaths on Wednesday, bringing the state’s COVID-19 death toll to 839.

On Tuesday, the Iowa Department of Corrections (IDOC) reported the death of an inmate who was confirmed as having COVID-19. Timothy McGhee, Jr., is the third inmate at an Iowa state prison to die because of COVID-19. All three were incarcerated at the Fort Dodge Correctional Facility.

In early July, the IDOC confirmed an outbreak of the virus at the prison. As of Wednesday morning, 337 of Fort Dodge’s 1,055 inmates had tested positive, as had 30 members of its staff. According to the department, 284 of the inmates and 21 of the staff members are now considered recovered.

The 48-year-old McGhee had been at Fort Dodge since October 2018. He was serving a 15-year sentence, after being convicted of three counts of theft in the 2nd degree. McGhee was being treated at the University of Iowa Hospital when he died.

According to IDOC, McGhee had “multiple preexisting medical conditions.” Some states have instituted programs to expedite the release of nonviolent inmates who are potentially vulnerable to COVID-19 due to age or underlying medical conditions. Iowa has not, although IDOC is accelerating the release of inmates who are considered eligible by the Iowa Board of Parole.

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