Iowa confirms first child death from COVID as schools reopen
IOWA CITY — A young child died due to complications from coronavirus in June, the first confirmed death of a minor in Iowa during the pandemic, the state health department belatedly announced Sunday evening.
The Iowa Department of Public Health said the state medical examiner’s office concluded its case investigation Aug. 6 into the death of the child, who was under the age of 5. But the death wasn’t reported in the state’s statistics until Saturday, more than two weeks later.
“The child’s death was publicly reported this weekend after ensuring the individual’s identity would remain protected and notifying the family,” the department said in a statement. “We have made every effort to protect the identity of this child, while the family grieves this devastating loss. Again, we send our sincerest condolences.”
The confirmation of the state’s first child death comes one day before dozens of school districts are prepared to begin the school year on Monday — a development that has many educators and parents already on edge.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has ordered schools to reopen for at least 50 percent in-person instruction, despite a pandemic that has already killed 1,036 people and seen infections soar in recent days.
Reynolds has said that the majority of school districts will resume classroom instruction this week. Some districts have delayed their start dates until September because of coronavirus concerns or the Aug. 10 derecho that damaged many school buildings.
Two of the largest, Iowa City and Des Moines, and the state teachers’ union are pursuing legal action challenging the governor’s authority to order schools to offer in-person instruction during the pandemic. They say it’s simply unsafe for now and that local school boards can better make decisions about when to return.
Nearly 90 percent of people who have died after contracting coronavirus in Iowa have been 61 or older, and a majority were living in nursing homes with outbreaks, according to state data. In all, about 20 people under the age of 40 have died from the virus since March.
The confirmation of the child’s death came a day after The Associated Press asked for information about the first person under age 17 that was reported on the state’s coronavirus website Saturday.
The statement said that the medical examiner performed a full range of testing on the child, as is routine for any individual who dies under the age of 17. Other tests were performed given the child’s health history as a complicating factor.
“Ultimately, COVID-19 was deemed the cause of death,” the statement said.
The department didn’t immediately release any additional information, including the child’s county of residence or gender.
Public health department spokeswoman Amy McCoy told the AP on Saturday she would look into questions but never responded before the department issued Sunday night’s statement.
Reynolds was asked at a news conference last week about McCoy’s failure to respond to some media inquiries. The governor said that it was not her “expectation” that such inquiries would be ignored and promised to look into the concerns.
The department’s credibility took a hit last week after it acknowledged that thousands of positive and negative cases had been erroneously backdated due to a data error.
The state medical director and epidemiologist, Caitlin Pedati, said she had been aware of the error since late July. Nonetheless, she allowed the department to release flawed county-by-county 14-day positivity rates on which schools and parents made decisions about reopening and enrollment. Those rates were changed Wednesday when the department claimed to fix the error, although independent trackers say they still see numerous discrepancies.
Reynolds says that only districts where the positivity rate reaches 15 percent — a threshold three times higher than what’s recommended by many public health exerts — can apply for waivers to move to virtual learning for two weeks at a time.
Five counties exceeded that rate as of Sunday. But as of Friday, no waivers had been issued for districts to begin completely virtual.