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White House task force says Iowa is 7th highest in US for new COVID-19 cases, recommends using face masks statewide

The report recommends ensuring statewide mask utilization to help prevent "unnecessary transmission and deaths" in vulnerable communities.

DES MOINES, Iowa — The latest White House Coronavirus Task Force report obtained by ABC News says Iowa has the seventh highest rate in the country for new coronavirus cases, indicating 101 or more new cases per 100,000 people last week. 

Report Summary

Iowa remains in the red zone for new cases. The report says Iowa had 173 new cases per 100,000 people from Sept. 12 to 18, while the national average is 86 new cases per 100,000.

The report, dated for Sept. 20, says Iowa is in the yellow zone for positivity rates, meaning test positivity rates have been between 5% and 7.9%. Iowa has the 12th highest positivity rate in the country. 

From Sept. 12 through 18, Iowa saw an increase in new cases and stability in test positivity, according to the report. Test positivity is critical to know considering that is one factor that determines if schools should shift to online learning. 

Over the last three weeks of the report (Sept. 5 through 18) Polk, Johnson and Story counties have held the highest number of new cases. These counties represent 30.4% of new cases in the state. 

The report says 68% of Iowa's 99 counties have moderate or high levels of community transmission, with 23% having high levels. 

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From Sept. 7 to 13, 10% of nursing homes had at least one new resident test positive for the coronavirus while 26% had at lease one new staff test positive. 2% of of nursing homes had at least one resident die during that time. 

From Sept. 12 to 18, on average, 44 patients with confirmed COVID-19 and 44 patients with suspected COVID-19 were reported as newly admitted each day in hospitals.

The report says an average of greater than 95% of hospitals reported either new confirmed or new suspected coronavirus patients each day during this period. 

Iowa's coronavirus website shows the following for newly admitted hospitalizations between those days: 

Credit: WOI/IDPH
A screenshot off of the Iowa Dept. of Public Health's COVID-19 website detailing newly admitted patients. Captured Sept. 22, 2020.

The graph above shows that the average number of patients admitted during this timeframe is 39. 

Local 5 has reached out to the Iowa Department of Public Health to find out how the state categorizes coronavirus hospitalizations.

The report says hospitalizations are part of the Health and Human Services (HHS) Project dataset. That's why data in this report may differ from what the state is reporting. 

The data used by the task force includes psychiatric, rehabilitation, and religious non-medical hospitals. 

"In addition, hospitals explicitly identified by states/regions as those from which we should not expect reports were excluded from the percent reporting figure," reads the White House report.

READ: White House Coronavirus Task Force report on Iowa, Sept. 20, 2020


Face masks

The task force continues to recommend a face mask mandate for the state. 

"Ensuring mask utilization statewide will prevent unnecessary transmission and deaths in vulnerable communities," first recommendation on the report reads.

Gov. Kim Reynolds has repeatedly said she will not order a mask mandate because it would be difficult to enforce. 

WATCH: Gov. Reynolds addresses mask mandates during Sept. 2, 2020 press conference

RELATED: 'It has really been a tough year': Gov. Reynolds reopens small business relief program for bars in 6 Iowa counties

Testing & Contact Tracing

Overall, the task force recommends Iowa maintain testing levels completed in July. 

According to the IDPH, 168,977 Iowans were tested in July, averaging about 5,450 tests per day. A total of 181,364 tests were completed in August, averaging 5,850 tests per day. 

On Friday, the IDPH announced they will no longer be conducting routine testing in long-term care facilities, saying the volume and frequency generated by routine testing and the testing already happening across the state "will exceed the current capacity." 

Iowa is also tracking antigen positive results with PCR confirmed results to find the total number of cases in the state. 

IDPH began reporting antigen cases in late August.

Colleges and university testing

The task force also recommends that the state "dramatically" increase testing at universities to quickly find and quarantine on-campus testing. A look at how universities are conducting testing can be found in the link below. 

RELATED: How Iowa's major universities are reporting COVID-19 numbers

Tribal Nations

Tribal Nations are encouraged to continue the enforcement of social distancing and masking measures in areas of increased transmission. The task force recommends the continuance of testing, contact tracing and safe quarantine/isolation.

Tribal Nations need to be aware of the significant risk of asymptomatic transmission during gatherings and ceremonies, the report says. 

WATCH: Complete coronavirus coverage from Local 5 on YouTube