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Members of the Iowa National Guard prepare for the opening of the TestIowa site in Ottumwa on May 13. The site will continue operations through at least May 29.

OTTUMWA — Wapello County officially reached 300 cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, according to state data. It took only three days since hitting 200 cases to reach that figure.

The Iowa Department of Public Health said Wednesday that Wapello County had 306 confirmed cases of the virus, an increase of 23 from the previous day. Testing also rose, with Wapello County now having more than 1,000 people tested.

County officials also put the number of confirmed cases higher than 300, though Wapello County Emergency Management counted 311 cases. That included the first confirmed COVID infection in a minor living in Wapello County. Local officials now say 22 people have recovered from the virus.

Wapello County has surged up the state’s listing for per capita infections. It now has the state’s eighth-highest infection rate and the 10th highest number of cases overall.

The county saw a decrease in the percentage of tests that came back positive, but the 35 percent rate for the latest batch was far above the state’s figure. Iowa’s overall positive rate dropped to 7 percent, the first time since early April it was below 10 percent. Experts say the 10 percent threshold is an important one for ensuring adequate monitoring of the virus’ spread.

Wednesday also saw TestIowa open a drive-through testing site in Ottumwa. The effort to increase testing may well raise the number of known cases in the coming days, but it is important in giving officials a more accurate picture of the disease in the area.

Mayor Tom Lazio welcomed the opening, saying the virus has clearly expanded community spread in Wapello County.

“We’re pleased to have the TestIowa site here,” said Lazio. “We really think this will help us get a handle on the community spread.”

Emergency Management Director Tim Richmond said the testing site will give a “representative sample” for what’s happening, despite not being limited to area residents. While the initial announcement for the site was for it to operate Wednesday through Friday, Richmond said that has been extended to include weekdays until at least May 22.

The Ottumwa site has a target of about 320 tests per day, depending on how many appointments it is able to handle. Richmond encouraged people to go through the screening at testiowa.com, and noted that the results of any given test — or even a set of tests — only indicates the status when they are tested.

“This is a snapshot of today,” he said.

Cases are also rising quickly in Monroe County. One of the last area counties to confirm the virus’ presence, Monroe County now has 18 cases.

The state’s figures also caught up Wednesday with local officials’ data for fatalities. Two Wapello County residents have died of COVID-19, and 306 Iowans have died.

Gov. Kim Reynolds said Wednesday the state was moving “to the recovery phase,” shifting from mitigation to containment of the COVID-19 virus. She announced the closures of salons, barbershops and some other businesses, put in place to contain the virus’ spread, are being lifted.

That doesn’t necessarily mean people will rush back to businesses, though. Lazio said people need to take responsibility and “be careful, be cautious [and] use common sense.”

Matt Milner can be reached at mmilner@ottumwacourier.com and followed on Twitter @mwmilner

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Managing Editor

Matt Milner currently serves as the Courier's Managing Editor. Milner is a trained weather spotter and is usually outside if there are storms. He joined the Courier in 2002.

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