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Health officials investigating case surge

DES MOINES, Iowa — Health officials in Iowa are working to determine what is causing a spike in coronavirus cases in the northwest corner of the state where several counties are seeing a surge, Gov. Kim Reynolds said Tuesday.

Sioux County has a 14-day positivity rate of 30%. Public health officials usually recommend mitigation measures including crowd restrictions, face coverings and business closures to slow the virus’ spread when an area surpasses 5% positivity.

Two adjacent counties — Lyon and Osceola — have rates above 20%

“In Sioux County there isn’t a specific outbreak so we need to continue doing the case investigation. I think that it’s saying that there is significant community spread happening within the county and then they need to do what they can to help mitigate that,” Reynolds said.

The Republican governor acknowledged the rate of spread is very high but said she’s hopeful it is stabilizing. The county began seeing cases increase in early August when and has since seen the 14-day rolling total of positive cases increase six-fold since.

“I don’t know what’s going on up there,” Reynolds said. “It’s what we see a lot of times when we start to open things up and I think we should expect that you’re going to see probably a little uptick in cases.”

The White House coronavirus task force had been advising Iowa to implement a mask policy for weeks as the state surged to the top of all states for virus spread in August. Reynolds has resisted. She closed bars in six counties for a short time when increases were noticed in highly populated areas and in university towns. In the past few weeks, the overall state situation has improved, but daily statistics remain elevated.

Iowa’s positive case numbers surpassed 81,000 on Tuesday as the state posted 517 new cases in the past 24 hours and 19 deaths, raising the death toll to 1,285.

“It’s obvious that people are not wearing masks in northwest Iowa,” said David Johnson, a retired state senator who lives in Ocheyedan in Osceola County.

He said funerals and weddings are packed with people not wearing masks or social distancing. In his city, typically only those working in businesses where masks are required, such as a clinic or pharmacy, wear them, he said.

Reynolds met Tuesday with U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, who was in Des Moines to discuss federal housing programs for low-income elderly residents.

Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, said he has confidence in the system of rigorous vaccine testing but that it takes time to go through all the appropriate steps to ensure it’s effective and safe and that people should be patient.

“It is true that with viral infections of this type they do have a natural course and you know given a long enough period of time it would on its own go away but obviously we don’t want to wait that long,” he said.

Once approved, he said people shouldn’t worry about whether it’s safe and he offered his advice to those who oppose taking a vaccine.

“I would say would you rather continue with COVID-19 controlling your life or would you like to get to the other side of this and move on?” he said.

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