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Iowa's COVID-19 infection rate could start to decline next week, at least temporarily

A sign in Iowa State University's Memorial Union reminds students of safety protocol to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Natalie Krebs
IPR File
A sign in Iowa State University's Memorial Union reminds students of safety protocol to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

State health officials reported this week that the number of Iowans hospitalized with COVID-19 remains high as new infections continue to surge across the state.

Officials reported Wednesday that 9,860 new infections in Iowa have been confirmed in the past week.

The state's 14-day test positivity rate remains at 9.5 percent, a rate that's barely shifted in the past two weeks.

The number of Iowans hospitalized this week is at 626, down just slightly from last Wednesday's rate of 624.

It's the third week that hospitalizations have topped 600, a rate that was last seen in December of last year, and is far above the state's record low of 46 set at the end of June, just a little more than three months earlier.

While the rate of new coronavirus infections is reported to be declining nationwide, they remain high in Iowa.

"The fact that delta hit the southern states first, they peaked much faster, and then they came down," said Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metrics sciences at the University of Washington Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation.

"Whereas delta hit the states up north a little bit later," he said. "And that's why they're still going up."

Mokdad said his institute's modeling indicates the virus continues to surge in Iowa for several reasons.

First off, the number of Iowans who wear masks and are vaccinated remains low.

"Mask wearing in Iowa is very low — 21 percent," he said. "Whereas the nation is 41 percent. So mask wearing is very, very low."

The number of eligible Iowans who are fully vaccinated is at 64 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mokdad said about 30 percent of eligible Iowans say they don't want to get the vaccine, meaning vaccination rates will likely continue to remain low.

He said, on top of this, Iowans have been highly mobile during the pandemic.

"Mobility in Iowa is much higher than before COVID-19. So people are moving out and about like there is no COVID-19," he said.

Mokdad said he expect the infection rate to start dropping in Iowa as early as next week with a drop in mortality rates to follow starting the third week of October.

But he said he doesn't expect this decline to last and said his institute is predicting cases will rise again in early November.

"Simply because there are a large percentage of the population still susceptible to COVID-19," Mokdad said. "And the seasonality of winter will lead to a rise. There'll be an increase in cases and an increase in hospitalizations."

He said what he's learned during this pandemic is that Americans are very reactive, not proactive towards the pandemic, and said everyone needs to keep following mitigation strategies going into winter.

"When the cases came down, they felt okay to open, drop the mask, increase their mobility, start partying quite honestly, and our behavior has haunted us because we are not good at preventing," he said. "But we are much better — not great — but much better at reacting to cases increasing."

Natalie Krebs is IPR's Health Reporter