Sunday’s sharp increase in the state’s COVID-19 numbers was a shock. We weren’t the only paper whose reporter did a double-take and began checking the math before reporting it.
The 389 new cases announce Sunday were a massive increase. It was, in different ways, disheartening and encouraging at the same time.
Over the past week it became clear that the United States as a whole was turning a corner. The locations hit hardest in the early outbreaks are seeing their case loads drop. And, despite the horrific toll the virus has taken, a much lower percentage of those with it have died here than in other nations.
There was talk of moving forward, about states beginning to look seriously at how to relax some restrictions. For the first time it felt like there was, maybe, a tangible end to reach toward. Iowa had not reached its peak, but maybe it was getting close.
Sunday’s figures undermined that hope. The more than 250 new cases announced Monday was also discouraging.
There’s no question that Iowa’s worst days were pushed back by the surging numbers we’re seeing now. Even if those hotspots are brought under control immediately, even if everyone does precisely what they need to do right now, there are still those who have been infected with the virus at these hotspots who will develop symptoms in the coming days.
It was a gut punch for anyone who was paying the least bit of attention.
But, in an odd way, there’s hope even in that. We cannot safely resume our previous way of life if we still have no clear picture of how widely the virus has spread in Iowa. The effort to test widely at these hotspots may be the first real step in that direction. If the state can pick up the pace on testing, if it is broadened beyond putting out hotspots and extended to all parts of Iowa, then we will see progress.
Ottumwa and JBS need to take note, though. Several of these outbreaks have been at plants that are disturbingly similar to one of Ottumwa’s biggest employers. The company says it is taking precautions. But other companies have said the same.
If such statements are backed by action, that may help. But if they are made simply to placate the public and officials then the virus will, inevitably, expose that reality.
Painful as it may be, Iowa needs to get a good look at what the picture actually is in order to respond. There may be more days that seek numbers that would have been unthinkable only a week or two ago. But that is a necessary part of understanding the scope of the issue.
It all comes down to testing. Testing that is widely available. Testing that can be conducted not just on those who already appear to have the virus, but on those who do not.
Without that, we simply do not know where we stand. We lack the full picture. We cannot make informed decisions. Without more testing, we can only react. And that is a poor substitute for a proactive strategy.
Testing may well lead to case totals that stun us all, to days that make us wonder whether progress is being made. But the light it sheds will illuminate the path out of this situation.