Common Good Iowa


Jan. 26, 2021

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

Iowa deaths due to COVID-19 are near the 4,500 mark, with new positive cases as of Tuesday now past 315,000 and continuing to rise at a significant pace.

The COVID-19 death count hit 4,492 as of last Friday, according to the latest reports Tuesday from the Iowa Department of Public Health. No deaths have yet been reported for succeeding days. Delays are typical in reports of deaths and positive cases, with updates provided by the state affecting counts previously reported days and even weeks back.

As an example of delays, on New Year's Day the 4,000 death mark still had not been passed, according to state reports at the time. It turns out, however, from updates in the state data, that Iowa had hit the 4,000 mark by Dec. 12 or earlier. Over the last five days, while 47 deaths have been added to the state total, only one of those was reported to have occurred in those five days, and the rest spread over two months as updated figures.

Individual positive cases for the pandemic have grown by almost 30,000 in January, with many cases still to be reported.

Using a seven-day rolling average, both deaths and cases have been rising rapidly. Deaths rose at a double-digit daily pace for at least three solid months, from Sept. 27 through Dec. 31 — again with reports rising each day that extend that streak. For positive cases, the daily average of 3,491 in November was 2 1/2 times the average of 1,359 per day in October. The December average slowed to 1,544 per day. Reports for January — while incomplete due to reporting delays — are averaging 1,182 a day.

Governor Kim Reynolds loosened previous limits on gatherings in bars and restaurants and sports events as Iowans approached the holidays, and in recent days she has removed the already limited state rules on crowds at high-school sports events. All of the governor's orders have kept Iowa far short of a general mask mandate, let alone shelter-in-place orders implemented in some states.

Trouble continues, meanwhile, for Iowa workers and the Iowa economy. In the unemployment claims report issued last Thursday (Jan. 21) for the week ending Jan. 16, Iowa Workforce Development reported initial claims of 6,785 — the lowest in the last five weeks, but the seventh straight week over 6,000. (See the summary below.).

The COVID-19 health data below are from IDPH, most reflecting data released by 10 p.m. Tuesday. The counts for positive cases typically change around the clock as new information is gathered, with updates to previously reported data. Death count updates now are usually provided once a day, in the morning. The IDPH dashboard is found here.

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

COVID cases statewide

The daily average in positive tests has risen steadily in Iowa to a persistently high level well above those for the early months of the pandemic, as shown in the graph below. Continuing updates and revisions, which may be made over several days, weeks or even months to previously reported data, have shown the November average to be the highest. The December average is lower than November, but ran at a pace higher than for any other month during the pandemic. Continuing updates in December and January numbers may raise those averages in the coming days and weeks.

COVID cases statewide

It is unclear whether the few reports over the last week will remain few and keep the December numbers down. As of Tuesday, only five deaths were reported for the previous 10 full days, far under the December daily average of 32. The state will continue to update these numbers.

In recent days, two counties — have joined the 88 counties that already had reached double digits in deaths to COVID-19. Seven counties have had over 100 deaths — Dubuque, Linn, Black Hawk, Scott, Woodbury, Pottawattamie and Polk. Besides Polk, at 465, both Linn and Black Hawk are well past the 200 mark.


Economic Impacts
New unemployment claims show jobless Iowans need greater protection

The state of Iowa saw another difficult week in initial unemployment claims for the week ending Jan. 16. Iowa recorded 6,785 new claims, down from a revised 7,366 in new unemployment claims for the previous week but the first week under 7,000 in the last five weeks. Initial claims are higher in recent weeks than they were in the late summer and early fall, as shown in the graph below.

Analysis throughout the pandemic has shown that through most of this recession, the initial claims number has been well above the level at similar points during the Great Recession. Last week was an exception to that trend, as the level for week 51 in the 2008 recession was much higher than this latest week. In the last 44 weeks, claims have been 551,576 — or 97 percent — of the total of 568,581 over the 51 weeks of this recession. The magnitude of this recession can be understood by the observation that the average increase in initial claims has been 11,149 — higher than for every week but two during the same 51 weeks of the Great Recession (graph below).

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