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Data: Polk County Medical Examiner; Chart: Axios Visuals

Polk County’s deaths increased almost 20% last year, up 706 from 2019, according to a report presented to supervisors Wednesday by Polk County medical examiner Joshua Akers.

  • Statewide deaths were up by almost 5,000, or just over 16%, according to a separate preliminary report released last week.

Why it matters: It's a sobering reminder of the devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, underscoring the importance of vaccines and maintaining precautions like wearing a mask.

By the numbers: COVID-19 has been the underlying cause of death for at least 5,192 Iowans and a contributing factor in at least 644 others, according to Wednesday’s state data.

  • At least 528 Polk County deaths are attributed to the disease.

The big picture: Our numbers are reflective of national mortality stats, which saw the death rate jump by 15.9% between 2019 and 2020.

  • COVID was responsible for about 1 in 10 deaths.
  • It was the third-leading overall cause of death — behind heart disease and cancer. It was also the leading cause of death among Hispanics, highlighting the pandemic's disproportionate impact on populations of color.

The bottom line: "A 20% increase is a big deal. I hope people use this as a reminder about what is at stake and to, at minimum, mask up," Polk County supervisor Matt McCoy told Axios.

This story first appeared in the Axios Des Moines newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.

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Go deeper

What we know about the victims of the Indianapolis mass shooting

Officials load a body into a vehicle at the site of the mass shooting in Indianapolis. Photo:

Eight people who were killed along with several others who were injured in a Thursday evening shooting at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis have been identified by local law enforcement.

The big picture: The Sikh Coalition said at least four of the eight victims were members of the Indianapolis Sikh community.

Pompeo, wife misused State Dept. resources, federal watchdog finds

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The State Department's independent watchdog found that former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo violated federal ethics rules when he and his wife asked department employees to perform personal tasks on more than 100 occasions, including picking up their dog and making private dinner reservations.

Why it matters: The report comes as Pompeo pours money into a new political group amid speculation about a possible 2024 presidential run.