The number of COVID-19 cases, spurred by the delta variant, continues to climb. Yet information available to Iowans about the state’s caseload gets more and more sparse.
As of Friday afternoon, 91 of Iowa’s 99 counties had a community transmission level of “substantial” or “high,” according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About three-fourths of the state’s counties are rated as “high” — the highest level assigned by the CDC.
The Dubuque County Public Health Incident Management Team on Friday sent a warning email to county residents stating that people with travel plans should be aware of the risks of visiting areas with high and substantial levels of community transmission and should take precautions.
One would think the Iowa Department of Public Health would be on the same page and would be a strong proponent of keeping the public informed about potential health risks and hot spots. In fact, the state department’s reporting of information has slowed to a trickle.
After more than a year of tracking cases in real time with county tolls constantly updating throughout the day, Iowa’s coronavirus website now updates the number of cases once per week. On the state webpage tracking outbreaks at long-term care facilities, the state is no longer saying where outbreaks are happening or the number of cases at specific places. Hospitalizations are now reported weekly, as are deaths attributed to COVID-19.
That’s just not enough information for citizens to make informed decisions about traveling and attending events. Gov. Kim Reynolds’ mantra that she “trusts Iowans to do the right thing” is less comforting when we know Iowans lack information.
IDPH last month said it intends to decommission its coronavirus website later this summer, but also noted it could resume operations if the situation warranted.
Why not keep reporting the cases by county on a daily basis? We know the state is tracking this information. The CDC is updating its county transmission spread every day for every county in the country — as provided by public health officials.
Here’s how quickly things can change: On July 29, all 10 counties in the Telegraph Herald coverage area had low or moderate rates of transmission, according to the CDC. Eight days later, four of those counties — Clayton, Delaware and Jones counties in Iowa and Iowa County, Wis. — had spiked to high. Jones County went from low to high in eight days — not long after the Great Jones County Fair where thousands gathered.
It would be great if we could all just put COVID-19 on the backburner and not worry about it anymore. But clearly we are not there yet. We expect Iowa public health officials to safeguard citizens by providing clear and up-to-date information on when and where cases are occurring. Reporting that information daily is the best way to provide a clear picture on COVID transmission.