It seems crazy that Thanksgiving is just around the corner, particularly when, I think we can all agree, this has been the longest year ever.
While post-election news has grabbed national headlines, here in community-news central, the COVID-19 surge has been an enormous story to cover these last few weeks. There are just so many aspects of our lives impacted, and no one knows that better than our staff. Nearly every topic we cover has been radically affected by the pandemic — local business, the restaurant and bar scene, concerts, plays, art exhibits, education from elementary to college, faith and religion, politics, local government, community events, local sports, and, of course, health care.
After more than three decades in journalism, I have sometimes thought I had covered most scenarios. But nothing has prepared me for what we have been through these past several months. I have never experienced something that was simultaneously the biggest news story, the thing readers most needed information about and an event that impacted so many of our staffers personally.
We have been trying hard to work safely and protect ourselves, each other and those we encounter. But this most recent surge has the tides of coronavirus catching more and more people.
We continue to make our best effort to report on the true impact of the virus. Initially, we butted heads with state officials’ reporting of the 14-day positivity rate date, questioning its accuracy.
Now, as many of our engaged readers have asked about, we have stopped differentiating between our calculations and state calculations and run the state number without caveat. That’s because of a change in state reporting.
We had been taking the number of positive cases over a 14-day period and dividing it by the number of tests over the same period to get the rate. But at some point, and to be honest, we’re not entirely sure when it happened, the state started reporting the number of people tested, not the number of test results received. (The state did not announce this change in the reporting of figures that many across the state had studied carefully for months, and in fact, it took us repeated phone calls over more than a week to the Iowa Department of Public Health and the governor’s office before we could get them to confirm that they switched things up unannounced.)
This change happened after many long-term-care centers and other facilities began testing residents and staff regularly to guard against an outbreak. It makes sense that if someone is getting tested multiple times, that could skew the relative picture of positivity. We’d be interested to see both the number of tests and the number of individuals tested, but the state has stopped publicly providing a number of total tests.
State officials, you might have guessed, aren’t consulting with journalists as to what data the state releases. If they did, my top request would be more consistent data on hospitalizations. Last week, the state provided its county-by-county breakdown on Monday and then not again until Thursday. In the midst of this outrageous surge, in which the number of people hospitalized statewide who have COVID-19 has soared to record levels, daily hospitalizations by county would be a valuable piece of information as we try to report which areas are most at risk.
Beyond the numbers and percentages, we want to tell the real stories of what people are dealing with in facing COVID-19. We want to tell some survivor stories, of those who struggled through. And we want to tell the stories of the many people we’ve lost. This has been such a difficult time to lose someone under any circumstances, with limited opportunity for public gatherings. How many people didn’t get the end-of-life celebration they should have because people simply couldn’t get together? In Dubuque County, we have lost more than 75 people related to COVID-19. I think about those people, their stories and the loved ones they left behind. We hope to tell some of their stories over the coming weeks.
We also want to keep telling the stories of shining moments and everyday heroes. Now more than ever, we need to hear stories that will buoy us and bolster our community spirits. Watch for opportunities to send us your story ideas and shed light on acts of kindness and positive things you’ve experienced. After all, it’s almost Thanksgiving, and we can’t forget to count our blessings. And because this is 2020, we better recount them.