DES MOINES — Face masks should be required in public for everyone in 47 Iowa counties — nearly half the state — where the new coronavirus is spreading at higher rates, and bars and gyms should be closed and social gatherings limited to 10 people or fewer in five of those counties where the virus is spreading fastest, according to a White House Coronavirus Task Force document that was prepared but never published.
The document was first reported Thursday by the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit newsroom based in Washington, D.C.
Also Thursday, Iowa for the second time in the past week set a new high for number of new coronavirus cases recorded in a 24-hour span, according to state public health data.
According to the White House Task Force document, Sioux, Osceola, Webster, Franklin, and Clarke counties in Iowa are in what the task force calls the “red zone,” which means new cases in those counties have risen above 100 per 100,000 population, and positive test results have risen above 10%.
In “red zone” areas, the task force recommends public officials order bars and gyms closed and social gatherings limited to 10 people or fewer, and ensure all businesses require masks and practice social distancing.
The task force also recommends for “red zone” areas that individuals use takeout or eat outdoors when dining out, and reduce public interactions and activities to 25% of normal.
The task force document lists 42 more counties in the “yellow zone,” which means new cases between 10 and 100 per 100,000 population, and positive test results between 5% and 10%. The document does not list all 42 counties, but does list the top 12: Polk, Johnson, Black Hawk, Scott, Dubuque, Story, Dallas, Woodbury, Pottawattamie, Cerro Gordo, Plymouth, and Marshall counties.
In “yellow zone” areas, the task force recommends limiting gyms to 25% capacity and closing bars until the positive test rate is under 3%, limiting social gatherings to 25 or fewer, and reduce public interactions and activities to 50% of normal.
In both red and yellow zones, the task force recommends requiring people wear face coverings at all times and social distancing while in public.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has recommended Iowans wear masks in public, but has not required it and has not permitted local governments to create their own mask requirements or other pandemic response strategies. And Iowa bars and gyms statewide are allowed to be open at full capacity with social distancing measures put in place, and there is no limit on social gatherings.
The governor’s office and state public health department did not immediately respond Thursday to emailed questions asking whether either is considering the heightened procedures recommended in the White House Task Force document.
During an interview Wednesday on WHO-AM radio, Reynolds said she does not plan to issue a mask requirement for Iowa.
“No, I’m not going to mandate masks. I trust Iowans. I believe in Iowans,” Reynolds said. “There’s no way to enforce it. Most of the states or entities that have done that, they’ve actually gone as far as to say we’re not going to enforce it, so it’s just kind of a feel-good.”
Iowa’s statewide positive test rate for Wednesday was 6.9%, according to state public health data.
Also Thursday, the state public health department reported 830 new cases in the 24-hour period from 11 a.m. Wednesday to 11 a.m. Thursday. That surpassed the previous one-day high of 769 newly reported cases, established Saturday.
Before that, the previous high-water mark was 757 reported cases on May 2, according to state public health data compiled by the bureau.
The 830 newly reported cases Wednesday were not necessarily confirmed in that 24-hour span, just reported by the state in that window. The 830 newly reported cases likely were confirmed by local health officials over a span of multiple days before being reported to the state.
Also, 18 new virus-related deaths were reported Thursday by the state public health department. That is the largest one-day total since June 2.
Similar to the new cases, the 18 newly reported deaths did not necessarily occur in the past 24 hours, but more likely occurred over a span of multiple days.
Overall, the rolling average of new cases continue to trend upward to a second peak, nearly matching the previous peak in early May.
The rolling average of new deaths also has been slowly increasing over the past three weeks, as has the number of Iowans hospitalized with the virus.
Rod Boshart of the Cedar Rapids Gazette contributed.