1 in 500 Iowans have died of COVID-19

At least 6,390 Iowans have died of COVID-19, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control statistics published on September 13. That’s just over one in 500 of the 3,190,369 Iowans who were living in the state as of April 1, 2020 (the U.S. Census Bureau’s resident population count).

The state’s COVID-19 dashboard, which lags behind federal data and is updated less frequently, now shows 6,337 total deaths. Sara Anne Willette draws on federal databases when updating her Iowa COVID-19 Tracker website, which now shows 6,392 total deaths.

Statistics compiled by the New York Times indicate that Iowa is the 25th state to pass the grim milestone of losing one in 500 residents in the pandemic. The highest per capita fatality rates are mostly found in densely populated northeastern states, where the novel virus spread widely before mitigation practices were in place, or in the deep South.

Among the states bordering Iowa, South Dakota has the highest fatality rate, followed by Illinois. Missouri’s per capita deaths are a little lower than Iowa’s, while Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Nebraska have all lost far fewer residents than Iowa as a percentage of their populations.

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Exclusive: Other agencies covered $900K in governor's office costs

Governor Kim Reynolds’ office was able to spend nearly 40 percent more than its $2.3 million budget appropriation during the last fiscal year, mostly by shifting personnel costs onto other state agencies.

Documents Bleeding Heartland obtained through public records requests show that eight state agencies covered $812,420.83 in salaries and benefits for nine employees in the governor’s office from July 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021. In addition, the Office for State-Federal Relations in Washington, DC remained understaffed, as it has been throughout Reynolds’ tenure. The vacant position should allow roughly $85,000 in unspent funds to be used to balance the rest of the governor’s office budget, as happened last year.

The governor’s communications director Pat Garrett did not respond to four inquiries over the past two weeks related to the office budget. But records indicate that unlike in 2020, federal COVID-19 relief funds will not be tapped to cover salaries for Reynolds’ permanent staffers in fiscal year 2021.

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Governor muzzles public health experts on masks

Once upon a time, Governor Kim Reynolds postured as an advocate for mask wearing to reduce community transmission of COVID-19. Although she never consistently masked up when near others, and often sent mixed messages about whether face coverings were advisable for everyone or mainly for vulnerable people, she appeared in videos last year that promoted masks as one way to “step up and stop the spread.”

The governor stopped touting masks some months ago. In recent interviews and public appearances, she has claimed it’s not clear whether face coverings reduce virus transmission in schools, and has asserted that masks can harm children.

The Iowa Department of Public Health has similarly retreated from recommending masks as part of a layered COVID-19 mitigation strategy. The governor’s staff have micromanaged the public health agency’s communications with the media since the earliest days of the pandemic. At Reynolds’ latest news conference, she and a staff member intervened twice to stop IDPH Director Kelly Garcia from answering questions about the benefits of masks.

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Governor, ER doctor on how COVID-19's affecting Iowa hospitals

Some 524 Iowans were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of September 1, according to the latest available figures on Iowa’s official coronavirus website. The first time pandemic hospitalizations reached that level here was in late October 2020. Before this week, the last time Iowa marked seven straight days with more than 500 people being treated for coronavirus in the hospital was in early January.

Governor Kim Reynolds put a positive spin on recent trends during a news conference on September 2. The same morning, Dr. Lance VanGundy, an emergency room physician at UnityPoint’s Marshalltown hospital, posted a weary assessment of the current situation on his Facebook feed.

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Iowa's COVID-19 hospitalizations reach October 2020 levels

COVID-19 case counts and hospitalizations continue to accelerate in Iowa, reaching levels not seen for many months. Data published on the state’s official website on August 25 show Iowa reported 7,112 new coronavirus cases over the previous week. The last time the state averaged 1,000 new cases a day was in late January.

Statewide, 498 Iowans are now hospitalized with COVID-19, an increase of 25 percent from the 396 reported on August 18. The last time this many Iowans were hospitalized with coronavirus was in mid-January. The number of patients being treated for the virus in intensive care units (133) is at its highest level since late December 2020. Iowa also reported 89 new daily admissions for COVID-19 on August 25, the highest level since mid-January.

Hospitalizations have risen sharply this summer, quadrupling in the last month alone. Current numbers are ten times higher than the low point for Iowa’s COVID-19 hospitalizations in late June.

The slope of this past month’s increases resembles what happened in Iowa last October, as you can see from graphs published on the RMCC Data page of the state’s website. Total hospitalizations and new daily admissions are now approximately where they were on October 20, 2020.

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Governor blocks Iowa schools from opening "safely and responsibly"

Governor Kim Reynolds loves to boast that Iowa “led the way” in bringing kids back to school during the COVID-19 pandemic, “and we did it safely and responsibly.” The talking point was debatable last year, since Iowa’s new cases and hospitalizations began surging several weeks after schools reopened.

It’s laughable now, as Iowa schools prepare to welcome kids back this week. While the Delta variant has caused spikes in pediatric cases and hospitalizations where schools are already in session, Reynolds and leaders of Iowa’s education and public health departments have blocked nearly every practice that helped reduce COVID-19 spread in schools last year.

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