Common Good Iowa


Aug. 4, 2021

An eye on the data: Key numbers during the COVID-19 crisis in Iowa

The pace of positive COVID-19 tests is rising in Iowa — about 2 1/2 times as fast in July as in June — while the number of deaths is officially near 6,200. As more Iowans have been getting vaccinated, the pace of the pandemic has slowed markedly in recent months since the peak in November.

Sixteen months since the pandemic reached Iowa and 15 months since the state’s first COVID-19 death was reported (March 24, 2020), deaths stood this week at 6,193 and positive tests nearly 414,000 with the latest reports, which are likely lower due to delays in reports to, and by, the state.

Data updates from the Iowa Department of Public Health are less regular than earlier in the pandemic, but the latest reports show a doubling in daily average positive tests in July (249) from June (92) as students prepare to return to school in the next several weeks. Still, these numbers are below daily average increases in recent months — 212 in May, 485 in April and 526 in March.

At this point, no new public policy initiatives are being announced in the event case infections pick up further, particularly among unvaccinated Iowans, with COVID infections at a high rate just south of the state border in Missouri. Governor Kim Reynolds has removed the limited mask and social distancing requirements that she had implemented in early months of the pandemic. The Legislature passed and the Governor signed, on the final day and night of the legislative session, a ban on any locally ordered mask mandates in local schools or by cities and counties on local businesses.

Over the many months of the pandemic, delays in death and positive case reports — as well as recent changes in the number used to report individual positive tests — have hindered a consistently clear look at the pace of COVID-19 in Iowa. However, data offered on the state's website do provide evidence that the spread has peaked, if variants of the virus do not change the course.

The COVID-19 health data below are from IDPH as of Wednesday, August 4. The state has scaled back its releases of data on positive tests and deaths to once a week. The IDPH dashboard is found here.

The dark line in the next graph shows fluctuations in the daily number of new positive tests, while the shaded area shows the one-week rolling daily average throughout the pandemic in Iowa.

The seven-day rolling average in daily positive tests is far lower than the level of 1,000 or above per day from early October through late January, and but is rising again after falling during June to some of the lowest levels of the pandemic.

As with positive cases, the death counts peaked in Iowa in November, reaching 1,511 and continuing to run strong in December, at 1,284, according to the latest state count updates. The totals are frequently revised especially for the most recent months. The typical lag in death reports may indicate the count is understated.

Ninety-six counties have reached double digits in deaths to COVID-19. Nine counties now have had at least 100 deaths: Dubuque, Linn, Black Hawk, Scott, Woodbury, Pottawattamie, Wapello, Polk and Muscatine, with Webster County now on the edge of that group at 99. Besides Polk, at 647 deaths, Linn County and Black Hawk are above 300 deaths, while Scott, Woodbury and Dubuque also have passed 200.

Economic Impacts:
New unemployment claims at lowest levels of pandemic for five straight weeks

Initial unemployment claims for the week ending July 17 were 1,671 — the lowest week of the pandemic, with the last five weeks being the lowest of the 77 weeks since the start of the pandemic recession. Iowa is now past 675,000 for the current recession (675,034).

For most of the first 50 weeks since the recession started in February 2020, the initial claims number has been well above the level at similar points during the Great Recession. That trend has reversed over the last 27 weeks, but the magnitude of the COVID recession can be understood in a comparison of the average increase in initial claims over the full period — 8,767, compared to the average 5,989 for the same period in the era of the Great Recession (note the orange bars in the graph below, only seven rising above 10,000).

© 2021 Common Good Iowa. All rights reserved.