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Officials: Polk County experiencing another significant COVID-19 surge

Polk County officials expect to hit November surge levels for hospitalizations and new cases in the next two weeks.

POLK COUNTY, Iowa — Editor's Note: The video above is from Jan. 11. 2021. 

Officials with the Polk County Health Department (PCHD) and Emergency Management are preparing for another surge in COVID-19 activity, which could meet November's surge peak in hospitalizations and cases by Jan. 25.

During the county's stakeholder meeting Tuesday, Dr. Meghan Schaeffer with Aperio Statisical Consulting said virus activity is catching up following the holidays. 

She also noted coronavirus variants could be in Iowa already, but the data isn't showing signs of it, yet. Once the variant hits, Schaeffer said the data will abruptly change. 

While percent positivity of cases is an important data point in determining COVID-19 activity, it shouldn't be the only point used when determining a potential surge, according to Schaeffer. 

"But what we are seeing in other data are increases in the number of cases per 100,000," Schaeffer said. "We're also seeing average daily cases approach 300 per day for Polk County and over 1,600 per day on average for the state." 

The state's trend in coronavirus data is less severe than what Polk County is experiencing. 

"There's no straightforward explanation for that other than certain sub-geographies or smaller areas within states often surge not always at the same time," Schaeffer explained. 

"So Polk County's curves have not always followed the state's, and the state's [trends] have not always followed Polk County."

Schaeffer said the state is experiencing a steady increase. 

"There's a lot unknown and it's very difficult to predict these kinds of trends," Schaeffer said. "But the trajectory has us rising to the peak that we were at the height of the last surge within about 14 days."

That means Polk County virus activity could peak above November surge levels by Jan. 25. 

This could change, though. 

Hospitalizations in the county finally dipped to 107 Tuesday, a level that hasn't been hit since late October. 

"The [current] surge started when we were already at a high level of disease," Schaeffer said. "We could definitely jeopardize health care system capacity if we're not cognizant and careful of what the surge could do."

She added Polk County hasn't had much flu activity this season, which is very helpful in maintaining hospital systems in the metro, and that she had never seen a flu season like this one.