Spiking virus pushes western Iowa county to require masks

LOGAN, Iowa (AP) — A surge in coronavirus cases has led officials in one western Iowa county to require people to wear face masks in public.

The Harrison County Board on Thursday approved the mask mandate in a 2-1 vote, according to television station KETV.

Supervisor John Straight, who voted for the mandate, said he hopes requiring masks will help reduce virus numbers in the county, where the positivity rate of the virus has topped 20% for three straight weeks.

“It’s really a hot issue, and it is hard,” Straight said. "It was hard on us today.”

Supervisor Walter Utman also voted for the mandate, while Tony Smith voted no. All three supervisors are Republicans in a county that heavily leans toward the GOP, with state data showing active registered Republicans outnumber Democrats by a more than 2-to-1 ratio.

Outbreaks in elder care facilities have been driving the county's numbers up, said Brad Brake, the county's health administrator. Brake said 266 of the county’s more than 700 confirmed cases come from nursing homes, and 16 COVID-19 deaths had been recorded in the county as of Friday.

Statewide, 76 long-term care facilities have outbreaks, Iowa Department of Public Health data shows.

The state data also shows Iowa had 2,621 new confirmed coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, one of the highest single-day totals recorded so far. The daily positive case numbers average more than 1,700 a day for the past week. An additional 14 deaths raised the state’s death total to 1,705. Hospitals reported 606 COVID-19 patients, a new high for the state.

State data also indicated 31 counties have a positivity rate above 15% and all 99 of the state’s counties are now above 5%, a level at which many health professionals recommend face masks, social distancing and limits on crowd sizes.

The Harrison County mandate is expected to go into effect by Nov. 9 and be revisited after 30 days. The goal is to reach a positivity rate below 10% for 14 straight days, Brake said.

“Once that threshold is hit, then it will no longer be in effect for that next 30-day period,” he said.

Meanwhile, Bryan Health announced Friday that it will cut back on elective surgeries requiring an overnight length of stay by 10%, at least for next week. The health system said it has implemented phase one of its surge plan because of high patient numbers, the Lincoln Journal-Star reports.

Bryan on Friday also reported 57 patients with active COVID-19 infections at its two hospital campuses in Lincoln, up from 36 on Monday and 44 last Friday. It also has six other patients who had the disease, have tested negative, but remain in the hospital.