Common Good Iowa


Sept. 1, 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 — almost four times faster in August than July — while the number of deaths is officially over 6,300. As more Iowans have been getting vaccinated, the pace of the pandemic has slowed markedly in recent months since the peak in November.

Seventeen months since the state’s first COVID-19 death was reported (March 24, 2020), deaths stood at 6,307 and positive tests nearly 433,000 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 have been only once a week, but the latest reports show daily average positive tests in August (937) are more than 3 1/2 times those in July (253) with results yet to come following the return of students to school. Still, these numbers are below daily average peak levels in November (nearly 3,700), but the August daily average was well above any month in 2021 except for January, when the average was 1,216.

Governor Kim Reynolds is standing by her position against any new public policy initiatives even as infections have picked up, particularly among unvaccinated Iowans. 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, having peaked in November and declining through June, is climbing again as variants of the virus have begun spreading in Iowa and most states.

The COVID-19 health data below are from IDPH as of Wednesday, Sept. 1. The state has scaled back its daily releases of data on positive tests and deaths to once a week but on Sept. 2 the state announced data will be released more frequently. 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 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.

All but two of Iowa's 99 counties have reached double digits in deaths to COVID-19, with 12 now at 100 or above: Dubuque, Linn, Black Hawk, Scott, Woodbury, Pottawattamie, Wapello, Polk, Muscatine, Webster, Cerro Gordo and Dallas. Besides Polk, at 659 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 Aug. 21 were 1,820 as the pace of new claims has slowed significantly over the last 10 weeks since the start of the pandemic recession early last year. Iowa stood at 684,044 claims for the current recession.

For most of the first 50 weeks since the recession started in February 2020, the initial claims number was well above the level at similar points during the Great Recession. That trend has reversed over the last 32 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 — 8,342, compared to the average 6,105 for the same period in the era of the Great Recession.

© 2021 Common Good Iowa. All rights reserved.