Common Good Iowa


Nov. 17, 2021

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

The pace of positive COVID-19 tests is persistent in Iowa — averaging over 1,300 each day over the last three months — while the number of deaths has climbed toward 7,300 with the addition of 102 death reports this week. As more Iowans have been getting vaccinated, the pace of the pandemic slowed markedly from the peak in November 2020, but has picked up this fall.

Since the state’s first COVID-19 death was reported (March 24, 2020), deaths stood at 7,268 and positive tests nearly 550,000 with the latest reports, which may 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 through October (1,116) and early November (1,207) are more than four times those in July (253). These numbers are below daily average peak levels in November 2020 (nearly 3,700), but August, September, October and November have run over 1,000 a day.

Governor Kim Reynolds has rejected new public policy initiatives even as infections have picked up, particularly among unvaccinated Iowans, and has announced she is going to court in an attempt to block federal policy moves from being implemented. 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, Nov. 17, 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. September testing steadily produced the highest positives. In fact, every weekday except Labor Day produced over 1,400 positives. More recently, those numbers have been lower, but still steadily above 1,000 on average, so the virus is continuing to spread.

Death counts peaked in Iowa last 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 17 now at 100 or above. Warren, Lee and Des Moines counties are the latest to join the list, which already included Dubuque, Linn, Black Hawk, Scott, Woodbury, Pottawattamie, Wapello, Polk, Muscatine, Webster, Cerro Gordo, Johnson, Clinton and Dallas. Besides Polk, at 785 deaths, Linn County is above 400 deaths and Black Hawk is approaching 400, while Scott, Woodbury, Pottawattamie and Dubuque also have reached 200.

As vaccinations have become available since April this year, middle-age and senior Iowans have taken more opportunities to be vaccinated. Less than 6 in 10 Iowans under age 50 have received one of the COVID-19 vaccines, according to data this week from the Iowa Department of Public Health. IDPH updates hospitalization and vaccination data three times a week.

In addition, data on COVID patients in Iowa hospitals show how much the unvaccinated population causes stress on the system. Overall, only 29 percent of COVID patients in Iowa hospitals were vaccinated (151 of 524) in data released Monday, Nov. 15.

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