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Iowa sees surge in COVID-19 cases after addition of new test

Associated Press

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Iowa saw a surge in coronavirus cases Friday with 2,663 more confirmed cases reported, a significantly higher number than any previous one-day total, but state officials partly attributed the rise to the addition of results from a new testing method.

The state currently shows more than 62,000 people have tested positive in Iowa and there have been 1,091 deaths. In the last day, there were 12 additional deaths.

Iowa’s Medical Director Dr. Caitlin Pedati said Thursday that the state is now adding results of antigen tests, an increasingly popular COVID-19 test that provides quicker results. It detects specific proteins on the surface of the coronavirus, a different approach from the more widely used molecular test that detects the virus’ genetic material.

Pedati said Iowa is counting about 10,000 antigen tests in its state totals, of which about 1,000 were positive. The state received most of the test results in the past 10 to 12 days, demonstrating the recent increased use of the tests, she noted.

Adding the figures to the state’s data on Friday pushed Iowa’s rate of positive tests to 10% since March.

Prior to those results being included, Iowa’s daily positivity rate was 16% statewide on Thursday, the same day that the state’s 14-day rolling total of cases reached it’s highest ever number.

Gov. Kim Reynolds subsequently responded by closing bars in six of the state’s largest counties and ordered restaurants to stop serving alcohol at 10 p.m. The measures are in effect at least until Sept. 20. The counties include Black Hawk, Johnson and Story counties, which are home to the three state universities.

The University of Iowa on Friday reported 500 new student cases since Monday, pushing the total cases identified to 607 since school started on Aug. 18.

Story County, where Iowa State University is located, reported 74% of new cases in the past seven days were among people aged 19 to 24, Reynolds said. In the same time period, 69% of new positive cases in Johnson County, where the University of Iowa is located, were in that age group.

“It’s only a matter of time before this gets far worse and the state really needs to institute measures like banning large gatherings and closing indoor restaurants and closing bars probably throughout the state,” said Dr. Eli Perencevich, an infectious disease physician who is a professor of internal medicine and epidemiology at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine.

He said it’s not necessary to close down the economy, but people must avoid activities where the virus is spread, which includes gathering in large groups and indoor settings.

“No matter what, eating indoors is not going to be safe,” he added. “Bars are really high risk and just closing them in a few counties is not going to be enough.”

He also suggested that Iowa State and the University of Iowa may need to close as the virus spreads through student housing.

While state officials attributed a significant portion of Iowa’s virus spreading problem to young adults in university settings, it’s clear other counties also have problems.

In the southeast corner of Iowa, Lee County has seen a 441% increase of COVID-19 cases from July to August, noted Michele Ross, the county health director.

“It’s due to people in gatherings not social distancing or wearing a face mask. It’s also due to people not knowing that they’re positive and because they’re asymptomatic and going about their normal business and spreading it unknowingly,” she said.

The county board of health has advised large events to be canceled, but some chose to proceed.

Organizers of the four-day rock concert Riverfest, held in a park near the Mississippi River in Fort Madison, went ahead Aug. 5-8. The event typically attracts more than 10,000 people. Another such event is scheduled for Sept. 9-12 when the Tri-State Rodeo rolls into Fort Madison. An outdoor arena seats 10,000 people and over the four days the events has attracted more than 130,000 people from across the country.

The board of health issued a position statement asking organizers to cancel and are discouraging people from attending.

“Crowds will do what crowds will do and that’s why we’re discouraging people from even going to such events because it’s too risky,” Ross said.

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