REGIONAL—N’West Iowa counties have been among the top in the state for their percentages of coronavirus positivity in the past 14 days.
The data comes according to the Iowa Department of Public Health’s COVID-19 website under the “Percent Positive Analysis — Public School Districts Summary.”
Sioux County topped the list at 29.2 percent positivity as of Thursday afternoon, Sept. 17, having jumped from 26.5 percent Wednesday.
Community Health Partners, Sioux County’s public-health agency, noted the increase in new cases in a Thursday afternoon Facebook post.
“We urge every resident to take steps to protect the health of themselves and their families,” the post said. “The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to the virus. Avoid gatherings. Stay at least 6 feet away from others at all times. Wear a mask or face covering when you have to be around others.”
Lyon County had the second-highest positivity rate at 23.4 percent Thursday, up from 20.3 on Wednesday. Osceola County meanwhile had a positivity rate of 15.1 percent Thursday, an increase from Wednesday when it was 14.9 percent.
Public health officials in Lyon and Sioux counties did not return requests for comment from The REVIEW.
The county positivity rates are one metric school districts use to decide whether or not they temporarily wish to switch to hybrid or online learning.
For that to happen, the county’s 14-day rolling average must be at least 15 percent and the district must have 10 percent absenteeism due to sickness. The Iowa public health website does not report school district absenteeism.
Students or staff who are quarantining do not count toward a district’s absentee rate unless they are sick. Likewise, students with positive results who are quarantining but who are not symptomatic would still count.
Throughout the pandemic, Osceola County has reported the fewest confirmed cases among the N’West Iowa counties, tallying just 113 as of Thursday afternoon.
Sibley-Ocheyedan School District superintendent James Craig announced in a statement Tuesday two students recently tested positive for the virus, bringing the total number of students in the district diagnosed with it to three.
“As of this release, there are three positive student cases and 49 students quarantined,” the statement said.
The statement did not specify the grade level of the students who tested positive or who are in quarantine but said they will be learning online until they are able to return to school.
O’Brien County briefly broke the 15 percent threshold earlier this week, reporting 15.6 Wednesday. However, its positivity rate dropped to 11.9 percent as of Thursday afternoon.
On Thursday, the O’Brien County Emergency Management Agency announced one additional death related to the coronavirus, bringing the county’s total to nine.
Sheldon School District superintendent Cory Myer pointed out how the numbers of active coronavirus cases in school districts and the positivity rates of counties are constantly changing.
“One day we’re going to have a kid test positive and so that’s going to impact a number of kids that are essentially going to be at home quarantining,” Myer said. “Then we may go a week, two weeks without having somebody else test positive.”
He also mentioned how the positive case numbers the state provides have not always matched up with numbers local and county officials come up with, which further complicates the ability to get accurate snapshots of how a school district may be doing at any given point.
Although some Sheldon students and staff members have tested positive and have had to quarantine, Myer said the district is fortunate it has been able to stay in session for more than a month into the academic year.
The school district — like many others in N’West Iowa — recommends students and staff wear face masks but does not require them to do so.
At Sheldon High School, for instance, Myer said mask wearing is inconsistent among students. He thought as more students tested positive for the virus, more students would opt to wear face coverings but that has not yet been the case.
Gov. Kim Reynolds also has refrained from imposing a statewide mask mandate, despite a recommendation to do so in the White House Coronavirus Task Force Report for Iowa dated Sept. 13.
That same White House report listed Lyon, O’Brien and Sioux in the red zone, meaning they had some of the highest new lab confirmed case numbers per capita.