A Cynical Change in Accounting

Last week, on a Friday of course, Iowa changed the way it counts COVID-19 cases, suddenly adding 27,398 confirmed positives. It was a significant jump, representing more than 7 percent of total positives in the state.

And while it looked really bad — leading to games of one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-others on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and the rest of the web — this wasn’t another case of poor pandemic management, at least directly, even though it felt like it fit that narrative. (I shared, and then deleted, social media posts of my own.)

Cynically, it was a shrewd move.

To be sure, the change was completely defensible: an overdue adjustment bringing Iowa into line with the the CDC’s method of calculating positivity rate. Who could argue with that?

But it was set against the backdrop of Gov. Kim Reynold’s equally sudden decision to drop almost all required mitigation two weeks prior, and a new mandate that schools open to face-to-face learning five days a week that had just started earlier that week.

These changes, which seem to have been made without even bothering to pretend to check in with the state’s public health experts, were widely criticized on, again, Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and the rest of the web.

But this new accounting change was a perfect cover to the policy changes. How can you critique the immediate, sudden rise in case counts when its obviously and admittedly not representative of reality?

But what’s the point of all this “data and metrics” if they don’t actually reflect reality? If they don’t allow you to assess the impact of your policies? (Look, we know the answer and it’s not reassuring.)

This change in accounting, dressed up as the one thing Iowa is doing aligned with the CDC, offers an easy way to dismiss and discredit any complaints that Iowa will just add to its pile of 5,400 dead.