EPWORTH, Iowa — COVID-19 activity surged in Dubuque County over the past week, particularly among children.
That includes an outbreak at Western Dubuque High School that prompted officials to institute a temporary mask mandate.
State data showed 315 more Dubuque County residents were confirmed to have the coronavirus from Oct. 6 to Wednesday — easily the highest weekly total since the State of Iowa went to once-weekly reporting of county-level data in July.
That equates to 45 new cases per day over that span. When the state still reported data daily, the last time Dubuque County had more than 45 cases in a single day was in early April.
Two related deaths also were reported Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Western Dubuque High School reported 85 active cases of COVID-19 among students on Wednesday, prompting school leaders to enact a masking requirement for the campus.
“We’ve never had this many at once at one building,” said Rick Colpitts, superintendent of the Western Dubuque Community School District.
District officials notified parents that WDHS students and staff will be required to wear masks starting today due to the increasing number of cases at the school in the past two weeks. Masks will not be required while eating lunch or when students are outside for class activities.
The high school will continue to require masks until its positivity rate drops below 3% of the 1,063 students and staff in the building.
“When the number of positive cases is 32 or higher, masks will be required at school,” Colpitts wrote in the message to parents. “When total positive cases is 31 or less, masks will be recommended but not required.”
While the decision only applied to Western Dubuque High School due to the number of positive cases, Colpitts indicated the school board will meet in the near future to discuss the possibility of developing a district-wide plan.
Colpitts said in an interview with the Telegraph Herald earlier on Wednesday that district leaders do not know how the cases at WDHS might have spread, but they could estimate a timeline based on when the cases started being confirmed.
“We do know the approximate date,” Colpitts said. “It was towards the end of homecoming week.”
Western Dubuque High School celebrated homecoming two weeks ago.
Though the high school was seeing a spike in cases, district officials were reporting no or very little COVID-19 activity among students at its other schools. According to the district’s COVID-19 dashboard, there were no active student cases at any of the district’s elementary schools or at Cascade Junior/Senior High School as of Wednesday afternoon. At that time, there were fewer than six cases at Drexler Middle School and five active staff cases districtwide.
Other school districts in the county were reporting lower case numbers on Wednesday.
In Dubuque Community Schools, 54 students and 12 staff members — out of more 12,000 people — had active cases as of Wednesday afternoon, according to the district’s COVID-19 dashboard. That is an increase of 15 students and seven staff since a week ago. The building with the highest number of cases was Hempstead High School, which had 16 active, positive cases among students and staff.
Holy Family Catholic Schools as of Wednesday was reporting 19 active student cases systemwide and five or fewer staff cases, up from 17 total cases a week earlier.
According to a Wednesday update from Dubuque County Public Health Incident Management Team, 39% of positive COVID-19 tests in the county over the prior week were in children (the age group of 17 years old and younger). The second-highest age group was 40 to 49, with 14%, and 30 to 39, with 13%.
That update also shows Dubuque County again climbing past 1,000 active cases — to 1,003.
“We at the incident management team continue to keep our eye on what age groups the positive cases are impacting,” said County Health Department Executive Director Patrice Lambert.
She said one potential reason for the increase in cases could be people attending more indoor events as the weather cools down.
Lambert advised people to continue to wear masks and practice social distancing, especially in the coming weeks as colder weather pushes more events and gatherings indoors.
“We want people to be safe,” she said. “We don’t want to be straining our hospital workers with additional admissions.”
The state today will release its latest county-level hospitalization data, which it updates only once per week on Thursdays. As of last Wednesday, 18 Dubuque County residents with COVID-19 were hospitalized.