Iowa’s exploding COVID-19 outbreaks at state universities in Ames and Iowa City are now disasters that can only be fully measured on a global scale. Ames holds the distinction this morning as the worst coronavirus outbreak in the entire United States, while Iowa City is at third on the list [Update: on Monday, Iowa City climbed to the number two spot in the list, while Ames remained at the top]. The per capita rates are worse than any individual country in the world, and appear to surpass any state in some of the other currently hardest-hit countries.
According to the New York Times COVID-19 tracker, Ames has had 956 new cases in the past two weeks, while Iowa City has counted 1,489. In the past seven days, Story County’s per capita infection rate is 797 per 100,000 people, with Johnson County coming in at 787 per 100,000.
Those represent some of the worst, if not the absolute worst, local spread in the world. It is far more than any individual country’s current per capita spread. Some tiny nations, like Aruba (417 cases per 100,000 population in last week) and the Turks and Caicos (284 per 100,000) currently sit at the top of the world’s nation per capita rates, though that’s in part due to their small size. Peru and Colombia have 157 and 150 per 100,000 recent spread, respectively.
Not many tracker sites break out other countries by metro area, but we can compare Ames and Iowa City to individual states in other countries where the pandemic is spreading fast. Brazil’s worst states are Tocatins (440 per 100,000 in past week) and Distrito Federal (420 per 100,000). India’s worst states are also not as bad as Iowa’s two major college cities — Puducherry has a 276 per 100,000 rate, while Gao is at 189 per 100,000.
But the worst may be yet to come. The New York Times also places both Ames and Iowa City as first and third on their list of “Where there may be bad news ahead.”
Many of America’s colleges and universities have proven to be fully unprepared for students’ return, choosing to offer vague assurances over the summer to get students and, importantly, their tuition and residence money back on campus. The second-worst city is Auburn, Alabama, where Auburn University has seen a swift outbreak.
But the incompetence of Gov. Kim Reynolds and leaders at Iowa’s two largest universities, as well as the reckless irresponsibility of many of their returning students who have packed bars and house parties, represent a global embarrassment.
On Friday, the University of Iowa reported 500 new positive COVID-19 cases from students. Johnson County’s positivity rate on Friday was a disastrous 55.5%, while Story County’s Friday positivity rate was even worse at 65.5%. That means that well over half of the people who take a test are testing positive. Gov. Kim Reynolds has received significant criticism for setting a 15% positivity rate as the metric for deciding whether local K-12 schools can go online-only for a time.
After scenes of massive student parties the week prior, Reynolds ordered the closure of bars and nightclubs in Story, Johnson, Black Hawk, Polk, Dallas and Linn counties. But the damage had already been done.
The University of Iowa warned late this past week of possible discipline measures for students found at this point to attend a gathering of more than ten people off campus. They also began offering testing for students after initially not doing so to start the semester, believing a negative test would give a student a false sense of security. That did not seem to stop over 600 students from contracting the virus as of the end of this week — and that’s just the number who have self-reported.
by Pat Rynard
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