The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Dubuque County in the prior week.

With the number of new COVID-19 cases topping 100 in the prior week in Dubuque, local health officials are expressing concerns, especially with schools set to resume shortly.

Since the State of Iowa moved to reporting coronavirus data on Wednesdays only, the case totals in the county have been climbing. There were 20 cases in the prior week four weeks ago, then 32 the following week. The weekly totals then climbed to 43, then 93. From Aug. 12 to Wednesday, Aug. 18, there were 112 new cases.

The quick escalation is not surprising, given the current state of the pandemic, according to Dr. Hendrik Schultz, an infectious disease specialist and chief medical officer at Medical Associates Clinic & Health Plans.

“We made a rapid transition from ‘low’ to ‘moderate’ to ‘substantial’ to ‘high’ community transmission,” said Schultz, who is also on the Dubuque County Board of Health, referencing the four levels of community transmission of COVID-19 as outlined by federal health authorities. “You saw the same pattern in the South of the United States earlier. If it starts to spread like wildfire on one side of the state or country, it will eventually reach you.”

City of Dubuque Public Health Specialist Mary Rose Corrigan said during her public video address Wednesday that the current rate of increase resembles what the area experienced at the beginning of the pandemic.

“We’re definitely going backward,” she said. “This is about the same number of cases we were having last April.”

Schultz said further increases in new cases could end up taxing local health care systems.

“I still think we are in a better place than we were in the surge in November because we have more than 50% of people vaccinated,” he said. “But the original strain spread from one infected person to one or two others. The delta variant has been spreading to six or seven. I would be worried about the huge amount of people showing up (to hospitals) all at one time.”

Dubuque County Health Department Director Patrice Lambert said Wednesday that she did not have an updated breakdown of delta variant among the new COVID-19 cases from the past week. But on Aug. 11, the delta variant made up 75% of positive cases in the seven days prior.

Lambert did share that, as of Wednesday, 11% of new cases were among residents ages 35 to 39, while 9% were people ages 30 to 34. The age groups of 10 and younger; 19 to 24; 25 to 29; and 50 to 54 each accounted for 8%.

“Everything that the (Dubuque County COVID-19) Incident Management Team is saying, we’re saying for everyone, of all ages,” Lambert said. “Please. Vaccination is our number one prevention strategy. Then, those social mitigations — social distancing, picking back up the mask, staying home if you’re unwell — those all matter.”

Schultz said he thinks there is some hope of convincing additional residents to receive the vaccine.

“The 30% who are unsure need conversation. We need to talk about this with them,” he said. “The internet is an unverified source. It is looking like it could be fully FDA approved by early September, so that could convince people who are worried that the vaccines are experimental, which they’re really not. This vaccination technology has been around for 15 years and has been used in other infections.”

A big concern for officials is school resuming. Corrigan said all students and staff need to wear masks and social distance, even if there is not a mandate in place.

“In a school setting, where not everyone is protected by vaccination — either by choice or because they’re too young — the indoors, classroom spacing, activities and general traffic flow throughout the school make that a high-risk environment that needs preventative measures,” she said.

Republicans in the Legislature approved a bill in this year’s session that banned cities, counties and school boards from mandating mask wearing. Gov. Kim Reynolds signed it and has repeatedly said since that she has not changed her mind, that she will not allow mask mandates and that she trusts Iowans to do the right thing.

Iowa Rep. Chuck Isenhart, D-Dubuque, filed a petition this week addressed to House of Representatives Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Haven, and Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, to convene an extraordinary session of the Legislature to repeal the new law. Those two together or Reynolds could call such a session, but they have shown no interest in doing so.

Isenhart also submitted a request to Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller asking for an official opinion on the constitutionality of the law. Miller’s chief of staff, Lynn Hicks, told the Telegraph Herald that it was rare for the office to receive such a request from a lawmaker and that they still are considering whether to provide an opinion. If they do, Hicks said, it would have the same power as a legal precedent but it usually takes about 120 days for such an opinion to be prepared.

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