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Coronavirus cases among Polk County kids increasing, officials say

Public health officials said cases among school staff and students are similar to levels the county saw during the November surge, but quarantine levels are steady.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Hopeful news reported during the Polk County stakeholder meeting Tuesday should be taken with a "dose of cautious optimism," according to the Polk County Health Department (PCHD).

This comes as cases and hospitalizations continue to trend down in the county and state.

"Just know that there's a lot of variability in this scenario as far as the fact that we're still in winter," Dr. Meghan Schaeffer with Aperio Statistical Counseling said. "We still have commingling of certain populations, namely adolescents, and we still have a largely susceptible population."

Schaeffer gives briefings on COVID-19 data trends for PCHD. 

On Tuesday, she said one thing to note is the increase in cases among kids 0-17 years old, which is unique to the county. 

From Jan. 12-18, 18% of Polk County's confirmed coronavirus cases were attributed to those 0-17 years old. Data from the Iowa Department of Public Health says 1,136 Polk County residents tested positive in that timeframe. 

During that time, about 205 kids tested positive for the novel coronavirus. 

On page four of the document below, there is a chart that details cases among school districts in Polk County.

"The darker green shaded area [shows where] we had higher concentrations of cases and staff and students per enrollment in the month of November when we had our last significant surge," Schaeffer said. "We are seeing levels similar to that in our adolescent population compared to the early beginning of November."

Schaeffer noted the level of staff and students quarantining and said it may be lower due to further mitigation efforts, like mask-wearing.

The increase in cases among Iowa's youth means everyone needs to be cautious. Schaeffer noted some studies on potential cardiac complications of COVID-infected teens who had otherwise been healthy. 

Schaeffer pointed to a recent study that stated adolescents recovering from COVID-19 may have the potential for cognitive challenges.

On Jan. 7, Gov. Kim Reynolds loosened COVID-19 restrictions for sporting and recreational events, allowing unlimited spectators to watch as long as they wear face masks and practice social distancing. 

Schaeffer said she doesn't believe that is the cause for the increase in Polk County, but it could be a factor. 

"I think the activity is probably twofold, in part commingling maybe over winter break and then more and more schools deciding to do some in-person or hybrid," Schaeffer said. "Loosening up some of those restrictions could definitely lead to the increase in cases among those age groups." 

She said the one point of encouragement that she heard is that schools are being cautious about loosening restrictions. 


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