Common Good Iowa


Jan. 12, 2021

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

The pace of positive COVID-19 tests is spiking in Iowa — averaging over 4,000 a day in January — while the number of deaths lurched past the 8,200 mark.

Despite a slowing of the pace of the pandemic in 2021 as more Iowans were getting vaccinated, the pace picked up again during the fall and has picked up as vaccinations have largely stagnated and the omicron variant has spread in the state.

Since the state’s first COVID-19 death was reported (March 24, 2020), deaths stood at 8,201 and positive tests at 682,570 with the latest reports. Even while higher than the state has seen, those latest numbers are likely to be conservative due to delays in reports to, and by, the state.

Data updates of COVID cases and deaths from the Iowa Department of Public Health have been only once a week, but the latest reports show daily average positive tests in November (1,527)  and December (1,976) were over five times those in July (254). The daily average has passed 4,100 through the first 11 days of January, breaking the daily average peak month in November 2020 (nearly 3,700).

Governor Kim Reynolds has rejected and continues to block new public policy initiatives even as infections have picked up, particularly among unvaccinated Iowans. Besides rejecting vaccine or masking mandates, she has supported court action to block federal policy moves designed to thwart the spread of the virus and its variants. The Legislature passed and the Governor signed, on the final day and night of the regular legislative session, a ban on any locally ordered vaccine or 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 last November and declined through June, is climbing again as variants of the virus have spread in Iowa and most states.

The COVID-19 health data below are from IDPH as of Wednesday, Jan. 12, unless noted. The state has scaled back its daily 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 high averages through the fall illustrate how the virus is continuing to spread.

Death counts peaked in Iowa last November, reaching 1,511 for that month, but after dropping off through the spring and summer, they have risen back above 400 a month over the final three months of the year as counts have been updated. The typical lag in death reports may indicate the counts for December and possibly November are understated. For example, Wednesday's reports of deaths rose by 182 in one week, only 12 of those deaths were attributed to the previous seven days.

Every county in the state has felt the impact of the pandemic, with all 99 counties reaching double digits in deaths, and 18 now at 100 or above. Polk County has passed the 900 mark, at 902, with an increase of 30 added to the count this week. Linn County added 31, and like Black Hawk is well past the 400 mark. Scott County is above 300, while Dubuque and Woodbury are pushing toward it and Pottawattamie also above 200.

The pace of vaccinations has clearly stalled among working-age Iowans, the target of proposals for vaccination and mask requirements that the Governor and others are fighting in court. As vaccinations have become available since April last year, middle-age and senior Iowans took more opportunities to be vaccinated. However, fewer than 6 in 10 Iowans under age 50 have received one of the COVID-19 vaccines, according to the latest data from the Iowa Department of Public Health.

What is especially notable about the percentages in the graph below is that, in other than the age 5-11 category, there has been very little movement in the share vaccinated in all age groups since what was reported in mid-November.

In addition, data on COVID patients in Iowa hospitals show how much the unvaccinated population causes stress on the system. Overall, only 28 percent of the 866 COVID patients in Iowa hospitals were fully vaccinated in data released this week. Intensive care beds in Iowa are in short supply with COVID, as COVID patients were reported at 178 in ICU (of 923 hospitalized), and only 147 ICU beds available as of Wednesday's report. That latter number was close to 400 a year ago and over 500 early in the pandemic.

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