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Vaccinations ticking up as Polk County officials warn of surge in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations

On Wednesday, Polk County officials met for the first time since March 9 to discuss the increasing COVID-19 activity.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Polk County health officials celebrated a win this week by getting more than 300 COVID-19 shots into residents' arms within days, but they also warned residents of the consequences of rapidly increasing virus activity within the county.

"That meets and exceeds what we had originally planned for this. We know that anyone coming to get vaccinated is one step that we need to take to make sure that our community reaches community immunity," said Nola Aigner Davis, spokesperson for the Polk County Health Department.

Another bonus— officials announced Wednesday that nearly 4,500 vaccinations were done last week. 

PCHD has offered a variety of incentives, including most recently, tickets to the Iowa State Fair and free lunch.

"We knew that there are many different types of incentives that encourage people to get vaccines. We like food; we like fair tickets, and so this was one of the things that we've been doing to encourage vaccination throughout Polk County," said Aigner Davis.

RELATED: Here are the winners of the Polk County vaccine lottery for Aug. 6

The people getting vaccinated on Wednesday had other reasons, too.

"We just decided to get it right now before school starts," said Fatima Khamis, a Des Moines resident who got the vaccine along with her family.

Miguel Chacon Valadez and his sister got vaccinated on Tuesday because news of the Delta variant became concerning. 

"I heard everybody's getting sick and dying," he said.

Abdel Karim Mousa said he simply hasn't had the time and finally got a day off from work.

"I was trying to do it, I was so busy, you know, like, working, working working. I don't have enough time.," Mousa said. "Working from 5 a.m. to 12:00 a.m., so it's like 16, 17 hours a day."

The White House has recognized Iowans for their recent efforts to get vaccinated. 

"I say kudos to the folks in Iowa who have stepped up these past couple of weeks and gotten vaccinated. We're seeing an uptick in vaccination in Iowa. I think people are paying attention. Delta variant is a variant that is here, and it is getting everyone's attention," said Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, senior advisor to the White House COVID-19 response team.

Delta behind surge in cases, Polk County officials warning of consequences

On Wednesday, Polk County officials met for the first time since March 9 to discuss the increasing COVID-19 activity. 

"We haven't been here in a long time, and it's unfortunate that we have to be here," said Polk County Supervisor Angela Connolly. "Because over the course of, really, a couple of weeks, our community has gone from moderate to high rates of transmission of COVID. And so that means our community is certainly at risk for unnecessary deaths and hospitalizations." 

PCHD Director Helen Eddy said the county is in the midst of the fourth wave of COVID-19 infections. 

"The situation is serious and getting worse," Eddy said. "The current wave is due to the highly contagious, contagious Delta variant and not enough people being vaccinated against COVID-19. The combination of large public gatherings and schools reopening in less than two weeks is the perfect recipe for accelerated COVID-19 transmission in Polk County." 

The main message from the meeting was simple: unvaccinated individuals who are eligible for the vaccine need to get their shots to help curb the spread of COVID-19. 

Epidemiologist Dr. Meghan Schaeffer with Aperio Statistical Consulting said the last four weeks have been "pretty significant" in COVID activity. She said the Delta variant is four times as transmissible as the original strain of the virus. 

"So in essence, it spreads from a single case to about four additional people. So that puts it in the realm of chickenpox, measles contagions, it's very, very transmissible," Schaeffer said. 

Polk County experienced a 65% increase in new COVID-19 cases over last week while the entire state experienced a 170% increase, according to Schaeffer. 

Schaeffer did note that there are data lags in the presentation she gave on Wednesday. She said an updated report would be available later Wednesday night. All of that information can be found on PCHD's website

Some other data notes from the meeting: 

  • About 66% of eligible Polk County residents are fully vaccinated (over 10% more than the state.) 
  • A 70% increase in testing was recorded over the last week among all age groups. 
  • About 112 cases per 100,000 people were recorded every day in Polk County over the last week, the state averaged 600 cases per 100,000 people over the same time.

Schaeffer presented two different models for new COVID cases. The models presented pull data from other models and COVID activity from as far back as 30 days previous.

Credit: Aperio Statistical Consulting
Models project COVID-19 cases in Polk County, Iowa into Sept. 2021.

This data doesn't take the Iowa State Fair into account. Schaeffer estimated around 600 active cases may be at the fair every day, but there are too many variables to assess. 

Some of those variables include if folks are vaccinated, if they're going to the fair every day and what proportion of attendees are Iowans.

Schaeffer was quick to answer when asked if she would be attending the fair this year. 

"No, absolutely not," she said. "Sorry if that was a little too strong, but no. My whole family's vaccinated, and I don't go in public without a mask on anymore, either." 

RELATED: Officials in Iowa's largest county urge indoor mask-wearing as transmission levels reach 'high'

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