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Black Hawk County hits record high COVID positivity rate

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County covid data on Jan. 12, 2022

As of Jan. 12, 2022, The COVID positivity rate is the highest it has ever been since the start of the pandemic.

WATERLOO — It’s officially the worst stretch of time for coronavirus cases since the respiratory illness was discovered in Black Hawk County in the spring of 2020.

More than 400 Black Hawk County residents have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began nearly two years ago. Hospitalizations stood at 60 as of Wednesday. And though COVID tests are difficult to come by, those who are getting tested are testing positive more than 40% of the time — 41.5% as of Wednesday, a record high.

“This year has started a little differently than what we had anticipated, unfortunately,” said County Health Director Nafissa Cisse Egbuonye at last week’s Board of Supervisors meeting.

Unvaccinated people in the county “are at an extremely high risk for COVID-19 infections,” according to The New York Times’ COVID tracker. Disease spread is so high that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that even vaccinated people wear masks in the county. About half of recent coronavirus infections have been traced back to the highly transmissible omicron variant, according to the Iowa State Hygenic Lab.

That’s the big difference between November 2020 and January 2022: Vaccines and booster shots are now widely available for most residents age 5 and older.

So Egbuonye’s news of nearly 700 new cases from Jan. 7 through Jan. 11 — and daily spikes higher than at any previous point during the pandemic — prompted one supervisor to suggest acceptance of the pandemic and its effects.

Black Hawk County COVID cases as of January 2022

Black Hawk County COVID cases as of January 2022, according to the county health department's COVID-19 Response website.

“We’re going to have people die of COVID tomorrow. That’s just the reality,” said Supervisor Dan Trelka. “I think we’re at a time when we need to accept that COVID’s a part of our life and move on.”

Trelka, who has previously said he was against vaccine and mask mandates regarding COVID mitigation, has also said he is vaccinated and believes it should be everyone’s “choice,” including among county employees.

Supervisor Chris Schwartz argued not everyone has a choice in the matter.

“We’re supposed to be coming together to protect the vulnerable,” Schwartz said, pointing to a plateau in countywide vaccinations. “Young people should get vaccinated as well, so we’re not allowing more variants to be created and spread.”

Egbuonye said she hoped the board encouraged vaccination: Around 66% of county residents 12 and older have been “fully vaccinated.” That is a little lower than the statewide number of 68.1%, according to the CDC.

The unvaccinated or not-fully-vaccinated population is the largest strain on hospitals statewide, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health, accounting for nearly 80% of COVID patients in intensive care units and nearly 73% of COVID patients hospitalized as of Wednesday.

That is true in the Cedar Valley as well, Egbuonye told the board Tuesday.

“We’re at a point where we just need people’s help. Our health care partners are exhausted,” she said. “It’s very hard to manage the volume of cases that are occurring.”

Hospitals in the area confirmed Egbuonye’s assertion. UnityPoint Health-Waterloo spokesperson Carson Tigges said his hospital continues to deal with issues pointed out in a recent Courier article on the omicron variant causing a massive increase in hospitalizations.

“MercyOne locations are caring for an extremely high number of patients,” said MercyOne Waterloo Medical Center’s spokesperson, Chelsea Keenan.

She urged people with symptoms not requiring hospitalization to stay home to control the spread of COVID, and to make a telehealth appointment instead of walking into a primary care or urgent care office. She also urged vaccination and booster shots when eligible.

“Wear a mask, even if you are vaccinated,” Keenan added.

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Reporter covering Waterloo, Black Hawk Co. and politics

UNI political communications/journalism grad. Alum of The Calumet (MCC), The Northern Iowan (UNI), Fergus Falls (Minn.) Daily Journal and KWWL. 4-time award-winner while at The Courier. Interested in exposing wrongdoing and holding power to account.

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