It’s getting increasingly difficult to ignore the fact Gov. Kim Reynolds has had a fair amount to say about COVID-19 hotspots in Iowa wherever they’ve popped up in the past couple weeks — unless it’s Wapello County.
Reynolds has said the numbers for positive tests in eastern Iowa have largely stabilized, and she’s right on that. But Wapello County has been a glaring exception. While residents of southeast Iowa have long gotten used to being virtually ignored by the state government in Des Moines, lives aren’t usually so clearly at stake.
The numbers are striking. The county’s caseload was 24 when May began two weeks ago, has doubled in just the past four days. Such a sharp increase has been linked to specific outbreak sites in other counties. Local officials continue to say that’s not the case here, though it’s hard to imagine Wapello County would so completely defy patterns we’ve seen time and again in other counties.
Some of the increase is doubtlessly linked to increased testing. The total number of tests on Wapello County residents has risen 256 percent since the month began. But the rate at which those tests return positive results remains stubbornly, and worryingly, high.
Is Reynolds to blame for the increase? We don’t believe so. The worst predictions about her decision to allow some businesses to reopen have not come to pass. But neither has she been particularly up front about the county’s position as an exception to the otherwise positive news about eastern Iowa.
The best development in recent days is the arrival of a TestIowa site in Ottumwa. The site exponentially increases the potential for testing in this area. It’s difficult to overstate how important that is.
In the past two weeks the number of tests in Wapello County has varied from a low of 14 on May 10 to a high of 96 on May 7. Wapello County Emergency Management Director Tim Richmond said Wednesday the TestIowa site has a rough target of 320 tests per day.
Not all of those tests will be Wapello County residents, of course. If even a quarter of that target are, though, it would be a gain of 80 tests per day for as long as the site remains open. That’s a mark hit only three times so far, and one that would hugely increase the information local officials have to work with.
We now know the site will operate until at least May 22. That’s an eight-day run. If, and this remains a big if, a quarter of the tests are county residents, it would mean 640 additional tests. That’s a 62 percent increase over the number conducted as of Wednesday.
Wapello County will know a lot more in a week than we do now. While the increase in testing will undoubtedly find additional cases, we hope it can begin to rein in the rate at which positive tests are found. That’s important, even if it doesn’t always seem so.
We encourage people to continue to use caution and common sense. The message from health officials on day one remains the best advice. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water. Cover coughs and sneezes and stay home if you feel sick. The advice to wear a mask in public is being followed less frequently than it should be, and that needs to change.
The person best positioned to protect your health is always yourself. And that’s true regardless of what anyone, at any level of government, ever says.