By Natalie Krebs, Iowa Public Radio
State health officials have announced they will scale back the reporting of COVID-19 data this month, as the rate of new COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations remains high due to the omicron variant.
The change will happen on Feb. 16, the day after Gov. Kim Reynolds’ final public health disaster emergency proclamation is set to expire.
Officials said this means Iowa’s two public COVID websites will be decommissioned. The websites present vaccine information and data on the virus’s activity, which is currently updated three times a week on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays.
State health department director Kelly Garcia said at a press conference on Thursday that COVID data will instead be available on IDPH’s website, updated once a week.
“This work continues. I think I really want to stress that this doesn’t mean just because that name of a website is going away, that we’re not continuing to do the work. We very much will,” she said.
Garcia said IDPH’s website will provide visualizations for positive case data, but that the agency will no longer collect negative test data due to the increase in home testing that is not reported to health officials.
IDPH doesn’t collect negative test results for other viruses like the flu, she said.
Reynolds’ office announced on Thursday that she has signed the final extension of the state’s public health disaster proclamation, which has been in effect since March 2020.
It will expire at the end of the day on Feb.15.
“We cannot continue to suspend duly enacted laws and treat COVID-19 as a public health emergency indefinitely,” Reynolds said in a statement. “After two years, it’s no longer feasible or necessary. The flu and other infectious illnesses are part of our everyday lives, and coronavirus can be managed similarly.”
When a reporter asked Garcia if she asked Reynolds to extend the proclamation, she didn’t answer the question directly.
“We had lots of discussions about what the impacts of ending it would be, and made accommodations to make sure that the most important pieces of the minimal provisions that exist in the declaration today have a smooth transition,” Garcia said.
The change comes as COVID hospitalizations and test positivity rates are declining, but they still remain at very high levels amid a surge in infections of the omicron variant.
State officials reported Wednesday that the 14-day test positivity rate is at 21.5 percent, a drop from last week’s rate of more than 25 percent, which marked a record high since the start of the pandemic.
As of this week, 794 Iowans are hospitalized with the virus, including 109 patients in the ICU.
Garcia said IDPH will continue to work hard on its pandemic response and communication with the public.
“I want to rebuild that trust. We are absolutely going to share openly information on our website and continue to have a dialogue about how Iowans can take advantage of the tools that we have to combat this virus most importantly, getting vaccinated,” she said.