Dubuque County health officials presented data that offered a closer look at the age groups in which COVID-19 cases are rising — including in children too young to be vaccinated.
The Dubuque County COVID-19 Incident Management Team presented that there had been 242 new positive cases among county residents in the past week. That brought the number to 667 active cases circulating in the county. That number had risen from 193 since Aug. 11.
According to county data, pulled from the Iowa Department of Public Health, the daily, seven-day and 14-day rates had not shown as high community transmission since late January, when cases began to fall with the arrival of the vaccines against the coronavirus.
“We are hoping we’ll reach a peak soon, but we’re not there yet,” county Health Department Director Patrice Lambert told the Dubuque County Board of Health at Wednesday’s meeting.
Of the new individuals in the past week, 23% were among residents 17 and younger. That tied with the 18 to 29 age group as the two biggest.
Concerned about the rate among minors, the Incident Management Team looked at the spread of cases by age group since the start of this school year, about one month ago.
Since Aug. 16, 11% of the total positive COVID-19 cases countywide have been in residents 11 years old or younger. Those are the residents who — in almost all cases — do not yet qualify to receive the vaccines.
In the same period of 2020, the start of school, the same age group represented 4% of cases.
Among minors, those 15 to 18 years old made up 6% of the positive cases since school started. Those 11 to 14 made up 4%.
Residents from 19 to 24 years old had the biggest chunk of the county’s positive cases since Aug. 16, at 14%. Those 25 to 29 years old had another 8%.
The younger age groups also have the lowest vaccination rates. As of Sept. 10, just 36.6% of county residents between 12 to 15 years old had been fully vaccinated. Data showed 44.3% of those 16 and 17, and 40.5% of those 18 and 19 were fully vaccinated. Residents 20 to 29 were at 45.2%.
Dr. Hendrik Schultz — member of the board of health, and infectious-disease specialist and chief medical officer at Medical Associates Clinic & Health Plans — said Wednesday that no longer were younger residents absent from hospitals due to COVID-19.
“Last year, we mostly had to deal with adult patients, especially those of older age,” he said. “We see now that the age has gone down in the people who are hospitalized. Populations that were not necessarily impacted the last time around — pregnant women who were in their third trimester, children — but who could not be vaccinated are there now.”
The IDPH has not regularly reported hospitalizations by county lately. The state dashboard has had Dubuque County at 21 since Sept. 8. But Schultz said those numbers were no longer very telling of the situation in hospitals.
“The numbers are way lower than they were in November,” he said. “But, we have an unprecedented staff shortage. So even if you have a smaller number, that doesn’t tell you if they’re at capacity. Considering capacity and how many beds available does not match anymore.”
Schultz also said that beds are filling up for other reasons as well, including with children who are seeing a wave of respiratory RSV cases. That is draining pediatric care as well.
Lambert said the Incident Management Team is watching closely for school decisions to enact mask mandates since a federal court temporarily barred Iowa’s new state law banning them.
Members of the Board of Health and Incident Management Team once again asked for any residents who qualify but have not been vaccinated to do so.
Attendees at Wednesday’s meeting also expressed frustration that no data was available for who among positive cases had previously been vaccinated.
“No one is counting the numbers of cases that occur, even if it is fully vaccinated,” said Dubuque County Supervisor Ann McDonough. “When I mention that, people sometimes take masking a little more seriously.”
That frustration was echoed by county resident Nicole Weber, a regular opponent to Board of Health mandates or recommendations of mask and vaccine use. She asked that those numbers be presented at the next Board of Health meeting.
But Lambert and Assistant Health Director Samantha Kloft have been asking the Iowa Department of Public Health for those numbers for several weeks at least. Kloft said last week that the IDPH has regularly said that it would eventually release those numbers at the county level, but has not and announced no date by which it would do so.