Washington Evening Journal
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Washington, IA 52353
As concerns around the delta variant of COVID-19 grow and cases tick up around Iowa and the U.S., Southeast Iowa is seeing what health officials call a worrying increase in coronavirus cases.
Positivity rates in several Southeast Iowa counties were over 5 percent as of Thursday, an increase over previous weeks. According to the state’s coronavirus website, Washington County has a positivity rate of 6 percent, Jefferson is at 8 percent, and Henry County shows a positivity rate of 4 percent according to the state, though Public Health Director Shelley Van Dorin said it is higher, at 5.9 percent.
The positivity rate shows the percentage of administered tests in the county that come back positive. A higher rate means COVID-19 is more prevalent in the community.
County Public Health officials said the trends show a worrying sign that the delta variant of the coronavirus is prevalent in the community, and vaccination rates aren’t high enough to keep numbers down.
Washington County Public Health Director Danielle Pettit-Majewski said the rise is concerning given the prevalence of the delta variant in surrounding areas.
The delta variant of the coronavirus, first identified in Iowa in May, is now the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the U.S., representing more than 80 percent of new cases. It’s twice as transmissible as the original, Pettit-Majewski said.
Pettit-Majewski said Washington County has seen 12 positive cases of COVID-19 in the last seven days. There were only four positive cases the previous seven days, she said.
“When we have consistently been getting zero cases for a long time, seeing that kind of spike, it’s concerning,” She said.
The same thing is playing out in surrounding counties. Van Dorin said the percent positivity in Henry has gone from around 1 percent to nearly 6 percent over the past couple weeks.
The public health officials had a common plea with residents to slow the spread and prevent another spike in cases: Get vaccinated.
Vaccination rates are below 50 percent in most Southeast Iowa counties, and public health officials said rates need to be higher to stop the spread.
Vaccines are highly effective even against current variants, Van Dorin said.
“It’s just so important to get vaccinated,” she said. “The Iowa Department of Public Health said getting vaccinated protects against the current virus strains and decreases the chance of a vaccine-resistant variant developing in the future.”
On Tuesday, the CDC revised its mask guidance, saying even those who are vaccinated should wear a mask indoors in communities with substantial or high transmission of the coronavirus.
Several counties in Southeast Iowa fit that criteria, like Lee, Van Buren and Wapello Counties.
Even in counties that don’t have a high rate of transmission, some county officials said vaccinated residents should consider wearing masks, especially in crowded indoor areas.
Though breakthrough cases in vaccinated people are rare, Hoyt Gentry, a registered nurse with the Keokuk County Public Health Department, said new information suggests the delta variant can be spread by people who have been vaccinated, so wearing a mask around high-risk people is a good idea even if you’re vaccinated.
“We prefer people wearing masks,” he said when it comes to the public health office. “It’s been known to help prevent the spread.”
One positive trend some health officials identified is that they’ve seen an increase in people requesting being vaccinated at their offices, which reflects a nationwide increase in interest in the vaccine.
“A lot of the news coverage has people concerned about the delta variant,” Gentry said. “It’s highly contagious, and a lot of the news coverage is indicating that it’s hitting that younger population, so we’re seeing a few more of them come in.”