New York Times Ranks Ames Among Nation’s Likeliest COVID-19 Outbreak Sites

A New York Times analysis of nationwide coronavirus data, last updated Wednesday morning, ranked Ames as one of the cities with the highest average daily growth rates of COVID-19 cases in the entire nation.

By the end of that day, according to the most recent information reported by the state of Iowa, Story County saw a new record of 34 people test positive for the virus. It was just five days after Governor Kim Reynolds’ latest proclamation removing social distancing restrictions on bars and restaurants went into effect.

The Times ranked Ames fifth in the country, just beneath Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and Sevierville, Tennessee, with an 8 percent daily growth rate of cases, which was averaged over the previous week for areas reporting more than 250 total cases with populations of 50,000 people or more.

A screenshot from a New York Times web page analyzing where coronavirus outbreaks may be likeliest to come next. This chart, ranking Ames fifth in the highest average daily growth rate of cases over the past week, was updated Wednesday morning.

“Growth rates are useful measures in epidemics because they tell us whether things are getting better or worse,” the Times explains. “In places where the growth rate is high but the number of cases is relatively low, a community may still have time to flatten its curve before an outbreak becomes widespread.

“Communities with a lot of cases and a high growth rate are on track to have a serious problem. A high growth rate on top of a large number of cases means that a still larger number of people are on track to become ill or die.”

With test reporting delays and an incubation period estimated at between two and 14 days, the loosened restrictions on gatherings at popular establishments could suggest that even larger numbers of positive cases will soon follow, although there has also been an increase in the availability of testing.

According to the figures reported by the state, 343 of the 4,771 Story County residents tested for COVID-19 — just over 7 percent — have been positive. Among those who’ve contracted the virus, 135 have reportedly recovered, while three have died. At least two prominent former residents of the area have also died from the virus, a 91-year-old Holocaust survivor and the man behind the Campustown restaurant Mr. Burrito.

Over the course of last week, according to data compiled for a coronavirus tracking system at Johns Hopkins University, the combined statistical area of Spencer and Spirit Lake had the highest growth rate of COVID-19 cases per capita in the entire country. A statistical area combining Ames, Des Moines, and West Des Moines ranked 30th on the same list.

Gavin Aronsen
Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.